Monday’s shooting at a Wendy’s restaurant in Florida is merely the latest in what has become almost a daily occurrence. Over the past couple of months, we’ve had mass shootings in schools, malls and restaurants. After each tragedy we wring our hands, call for prayers, and angrily debate what the founding fathers meant by the “right to bear arms” and whether we should ban handguns or arm everyone. Instead of continuing those unending and pointless debates, perhaps we should step back and look at the big picture. Here’s what trend data tells us:
• While the homicide rate decreased continuously between 1991 and 2000 from 9.8 homicides per 100,000 persons to 5.5 per 100,000, the decline has stopped and indications are that it has begun rising again.
• Violent crime is still at the same level as in 1974, despite having decreased steadily since 1991.
• The proportion of Americans killed by firearms is the highest in the industrialized world, more than three and a half times greater than Portugal, the next country of comparable development.
• The U.S. has the highest child poverty rate in the industrialized world.
• Today nearly 16 million Americans live in “deep or severe poverty,” which is defined as individuals living at half of the federal poverty line.
• The percentage of poor Americans who are living in extreme poverty has reached a 32-year high.
• The U.S. has more people per capita in prison than any other industrialized country in the world.
• Poor people make up the overwhelming majority of those behind bars.
I’ll wager that as the recession deepens, as gas prices continue to skyrocket, as foreclosures and unemployment rise, violent crime will increase. I’d also be willing to bet that once we quit arguing about a phrase in the Constitution and start focusing on the needs of our children, our mentally ill, our poor and our declining middle class, we again would see a decrease in the number of homicides and violent crimes.