Who is Killing Whom?

Who is Killing Whom?

 By James C. Whiteside


Abstract:  The statistics of gun misuse are overwhelmingly abysmal and sickening.  More than 100,000 shootings a year, 30,000 of which end in the death of others or the shooter.   The 70,000 who survive immediate death may fear life itself for immeasurable lengths of time.  The whole society is made fearful by the volume of such occurrences.  Only a society of indifference can allow such behaviors as it becomes increasingly unstable.  Children are particularly at risk and may even be perpetrators.  Women face enormously increasing risks whenever a gun is nearby.  Courts fail to enforce protective orders when women plead for them. A tide of indifference rolls on.  Patterns of violence are known but not dealt with in a culture of relentless media violence.  Race and gender are major factors also not dealt with.


“More than 70% of murder-suicides are between spouses or romantic or sexual partners, and these crimes usually take place at home.[i]


Mental Illness and Drug Abuse--On the other hand “there is overwhelming epidemiological evidence that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts. Only about 4% of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.”   However, “people with no mental disorder who abused alcohol or drugs were nearly seven times as likely as those without substance abuse to commit violent acts.”


“Between 2001 and 2010, there were nearly 120,000 gun-related homicides.”  “Few were perpetrated by people with mental illness.”  “Most of these killers are young men who are not floridly psychotic.  They tend to be paranoid loners who hold a grudge and are full of rage.” But we cannot reliably predict violent people.  “Psychiatrists, using clinical judgment, are not much better than chance at predicting which patients will do something violent and which will not.”


“Nearly five years after Congress enacted the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICBCS), only about half the states have submitted more than a tiny proportion of their mental health records.”  Still, better screening for and treatment of, psychiatric illness in young people would be of value.


“The vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly unfettered access to deadly force.”[ii]


Bob Herbert in The New York Times has written, “Murder, that darkest of American pastimes, celebrated in film and song and fostered by the firearms industry and its apologists, continues unabated.”  Herbert went on to say that the attacks of 9/11 raised a consciousness of terror in the U.S., yet in the six years after 9/11 nearly 100,000 people were murdered in the U.S. without raising a consciousness of anything.  The news media and most politicians hardly noticed.[iii]


Children—It’s hard to get a handle on the amount of violence against children.  The Children’s Defense Fund has made the effort.  “The number of children and teens in America killed by guns in 2006 would fill more than 127 public school classrooms of 25 students each.”[iv]  Newtown is not alone in its grief.  It just came in one overwhelming event.  “Since 1979, gun violence has ended the lives of 107,603 children and teens in America.  Sixty percent of them were White; 37% of them were Black.”  In addition, “The number of Black children and teens killed by gunfire since 1979 (39,957 as of 2009) is more than 10 times the number of Black citizens of all ages lynched throughout American history (3,437).


“In 2005, every nine hours a child or teenager in the United States was killed in a firearm-related accident or suicide.”  “In 2006, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 30,000 people died from firearms, accounting for nearly 20% of all injury deaths.”[v]


Women—An abstract right is being claimed and pursued regardless of and often at the expense of its usage in the real life of today’s society.  Pursued because it is claimed to be “fundamental,” meaning sanctified, beyond rational discussion and regardless of its actual function.  Let’s take a look at how such claims hold up in the threats against and killings of spouses.   The most flagrant cases are killings where, nearly invariably the wife has asked a court for protective orders because of lethal threats by her husband but his guns, the means of his lethality, have not been seized. The gun lobby maintains that in such cases sanctity of the abstract right of gun ownership must take precedence ahead of the woman’s life itself.   That this claim is justified even where the right enables the murder of the woman provides perspective on Second Amendment claims of gun lobbyists.


As the gun lobby has phrased it--“gun ownership, a fundamental constitutional right, should not be stripped away for anything less serious than a felony conviction—and certainly not, as an N.R.A. lobbyist in Washington state put it to legislators, for the ‘mere issuance of court orders.’”[vi]   No awareness appears to exist in the gun lobby mind that by the time a felony conviction could be obtained, the women at risk would be dead as they so often are.  No intelligence that such conviction would likely be by her partner himself, who has often committed suicide in order to escape any living responsibility whatsoever.


“In state houses across the country… the N.R.A. and other gun-rights groups have beaten back legislation mandating the surrender of firearms in domestic violence situations”  claiming their fundamental right is being damaged.[vii]   This has resulted in scores of killings where wives or girlfriends have pleaded for protective orders because they have been threatened by their husband, former husband, or intimate partner sometimes with a gun, sometimes by other abuse but where a gun is in the house or in the man’s possession.


In Washington state alone New York Times’ journalists found 50 people were arrested since 2011 on gun charges of one kind or another while facing protective orders.  In Minnesota more than 30 people facing active protection orders were convicted of some type of assault with a dangerous weapon over the last three years.  What is happening?  In most states relinquishing firearms is not required even after protective orders are issued.  In the handful of states where they are issued, enforcement is too often weak or non-existent.


How pervasive is this issue?  It is nearly impossible to say since so little data is available.  It is approximately one half of intimate partner homicides.[viii]  Where such gun surrender is mandated and enforced as in San Mateo and Butte Counties, California, 324 firearms were seized in 2012 from 81 people out of more than 800 protective orders issued.  There hasn’t been a firearm-related domestic violence homicide in the last three years in these counties since sufficient financing was created to continue an identification and enforcement program set up earlier.  County Detective John Kovach everyday reviews 15 to 20 protective orders from the previous day looking for firearms mention.  He then must obtain more information if possible about who the order is against and decide who will enforce the order.  He may enforce the restraining order himself saying, “My experience is the quicker you act, the more successful you are going to be.”[ix]  The grim statistic is that when women die at the hand of an intimate partner, that hand is more often than not holding a gun.


A 2001 study published in Criminal Justice Review found that a significant percentage of women killed with firearms in ten cities, one in five had likely obtained protection orders.[x]  Thus the system of protection such as it is then, instead of “failing safe” fails grotesquely, allowing what it is supposed to be prevented.  Why this is so and likely to continue to be so without new pervasive legislation with strict and proper law enforcement could not be in greater need.


The Perpetrators--As Bob Herbert in the New York Times has pointed out there is a “remarkable consistency in the patterns of murderous violence in the U.S.”  “In case after case, decade after decade, the killers have been shown to be young men riddled with shame and humiliation, often bitterly misogynistic and homophobic, who have decided that the way to assert their faltering sense of manhood and get the respect they have been denied is to go out and shoot somebody.”[xi]


Herbert’s comments are based on information supplied by Dr. James Gilligan, a Massachusetts prison psychiatrist and a professor at Harvard and New York University.  Dr. Gilligan has said that after working with every violent kind of criminal for decades he believes that there “an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”


“Violence is commonly resorted to as the antidote to the disturbing emotion raised by the widespread hostility toward women in our society and the pathological fear of so many men that they aren’t quite tough enough, masculine enough—in short, that they might have homosexual tendencies.  ‘In a culture that is relentless in equating violence with masculinity, it is tremendously tempting,’ Dr. Gilligan has said, ‘to use violence as a means of trying to shore up one’s sense of masculine self-esteem.’”[xii]  This is one of, if not the clearest and most basic explanation of modern violence committed by young men.  Of course, such violence is not at all restricted to them alone.


What other explanations are there?  Let’s take a careful look at one city, Chicago.  Where do the killings occur?  Chicago, a city with a soaring homicide rate, 80% of which took place in only about half of Chicago’s 23 police districts.    A lot of mental agility is not required to guess in which districts most of the violence occurred—the city’s South and West sides, the poorest, most jobless, more drug driven, gang ridden districts.   Districts where guns are the answer to “hurts and pain.”


Let’s look at the various aspects of this murder rate.  49% of the population lives near such homicides.  51% does not. The median household income is $38,318 near the death districts, $61,175 away from them.  Citizens without high school diplomas are 27% near, 15% away.  A bachelor’s degree or higher is only 19% near, 43% away.  African-American is 55% near, 14% away.  White 24% near, 61% away.  Citizens under age 18 were 28% near, 20% away.  Housing built before 1940, 42% near, 56% away.  Vacancies 17% near, 11% away.[xiii]


These figures are based on a study of 6,100 killings within Chicago city limits between Jan. 1, 2001 through Dec. 24, 2012.   That’s an average of 508 a year.  The overall crime rate is actually down, dropping 9% in 2012 for what city officials say is the largest drop in 30 years.  The drop is attributed to a broad ranging anti-gang police strategy.[xiv]  The figures were given a particularly poignant edge by their accompanying picture on the New York Times front page showing three pensive boys at a peace vigil, one holding a bumper sticker which read, “DON’T SHOOT.  I want to grow up.”


“When we celebrate gun rights, we all too often ignore their disproportionate racial burdens.  Any effort to address gun violence must focus on the inner city.”  In Chicago African-Americans are 33% of the population but about 70% of murder victims.  In Philadelphia, 80% of murder victims were killed by guns and 75% of those were black.  Black unemployment nationally is double that of whites as is black infant mortality.  But young black men die of gun homicide at a rate eight times that of young white men.


In Newtown the costs of the right to bear arms were made starkly visible—precisely because these children weren’t the usual victims.  The reduction of the human costs of gun rights will require more than merely gun regulations and limitations.  It will require “Aggressive interventions by police and social workers focused on gang gun violence, coupled with economic investment, better schools and more after school and job training  programs.”  The N.R.A.’s refrain needs tweaking to “guns don’t kill people; indifference to poverty kills people.”[xv]


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[i] Lankford, opus cit.

[ii] Richard A.  Friedman, M.D.  “In Gun Debate, a Misguided Focus on Mental Illness.” The New York Times, Dec. 18, 2012,

[iii] Bob Herbert.  “100,000 Gone Since 2001.” The New York Times, August 14, 2007

[iv] Children’s Defense Fund. Newsletter, Winter 2009, p.1

[v] Jimmie Carter.  “What Happened to the Ban on Assault Weapons?” The New York Times, April 27, 2009.

[vi] Michael Luo. “Ruled a Threat to Family, But Allowed to Keep Guns.” The New York Times, March 18, 2013.

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Bob Herbert. “A Volatile Young Man, Humiliation and a Gun.”  The New York Times, April 20, 2007.

[xii] Herbert, Ibid.

[xiii] “Near” being  within a census block of two or more killings at any time in the 12-year period.  Monica Davey.  “A Soaring Homicide Rate, a Divide in Chicago.”  The New York Times, Jan. 3, 2013.

[xiv] Davey, Ibid

[xv] David Cole.  “Who Pays for the Right to Bear Arms?”  The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2013.