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Perspective on Violence

November 15, 2018

How big a problem is violence in the USA? We have answers, but the answers are not easy to explain. It is difficult to compare a violent crime that occurs millions of times a year with violent events that happen every few months. Here are some of the US crime data from the FBI for 2017. It surprised me, and it might surprise you. How do we save lives in one area without costing lives in another?


  • On average, a violent crime was committed every 25 seconds.
  • A firearm was used in legal self-defense every 31 seconds.
  • A firearm was used to stop sexual assault every 2.7 minutes.
  • On average, one individual was killed in a mass murder every 4 days.
  • A child under 13 years old was killed in a firearms related accident every 5 days.
  • Someone was murdered at school with a firearm every 52 days.
  • There were no mass murders on school grounds in 2017.

I bet you had to read that last point again. I checked, and there were no mass murders on school grounds in 2017.

Our surprise tells us something really important. Given all the news we’ve seen, I assumed that the news media would inform us about basic facts and also put those facts into perspective. You might assume that too, and then we’d both be wrong.

The media operates with two competing tensions. First, we will change the channel if there is no exciting news. Second, we also change the channel when we see that the media is making up exaggerations to make ordinary events look extraordinary. The media adjusts their degree of sensationalism to balance between those two tensions. The media gets their maximum number of eyeballs when the same number of people turn away out of boredom as turn away with offended disbelief. Now that is an interesting perspective on the news.

That tension means the media has a huge incentive to spin the facts. The media bias towards sensationalism is inherent in their product. We are left to find the real facts for ourselves. We have to do our own work to fit those facts into perspective because the media isn’t available to do it for us.

Perspective is vitally important when we’re dealing with something as emotional as violence. How do we store guns safely while we keep guns available for self-defense? With millions of self-defense events a year, would gun control make us safer or put us at a greater risk from violent criminal attack? How many more rapes would we allow if we implement stricter gun-control laws? Should the relatively infrequent school shooting drive our social policy?

That is where perspective becomes vital. Sure, you’re welcome to your own opinion, but only an informed opinion will save lives.

I gave you 400 words and a quarter page of calculations. Please rate, share, and leave a comment. RM

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2018 5:00 pm

    Violence is not the problem.

    Failure to control violence is the problem.



  1. Perspective on Violence in the USA

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