Crime and Violence in North America

by Joseph R. Svinth
Copyright © 2000 All rights reserved.

Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, January 2000
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

-- British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli

Fighting in the streets, bars, and bedrooms of the land is generally illegal and usually immoral, and the resultant doctor bills and court battles are invariably expensive. So fighting should be avoided whenever possible.

Still, our egos frequently demand that we do something to protect our pride and our property, and no amount of good will on our own part can guarantee us protection from malice on someone else's part. So let's look at crime and violence, and see what they really consist of.

In general, North Americans aged twenty-five years and older die from heart disease, cancer, and strokes. Meanwhile, North Americans aged twenty-four and under die from car wrecks and suicide. (Some of the car wrecks, by the way, are suicides, with the car being used to avoid embarrassing friends and family.)

Regardless of age or ethnicity, females have a lower risk of death than males. Females' suicide rates are fairly high, but their risk of homicide is too low to show. Also, their chances of being raped by strangers are much lower than their chances of acquiring the HIV virus from their lovers. However, their chances of being beaten or sexually assaulted by the men they live with are excellent. So women should plan their defenses accordingly.

Violence is more common in large and medium size cities than in rural areas. However, this might reflect nothing other than reporting biases. The most commonly reported crime of violence is spouse abuse, and the most underreported crime of violence is sexual assault by people whom the victim knew.

Violence is gender related. That is, there is an 80 percent probability that the perpetrator of a violent crime will be male, and nearly as high a probability that the victim will be female. However, women are as likely as men to be non-violent criminals. That is, women are just as likely to steal from you as men.

Regardless of gender, criminals tend to assault, murder, or rob people from their own racial and socioeconomic groups. But there are some patterns. African American males are most likely to murder other African American males while European American males are most likely to murder their own families. Also, females are much more likely to murder their children than their spouses. Nevertheless, even the nastiest inner city crack dealer's chances of being murdered are lower than those of an upper middle class housewife's chances of dying during childbirth in 1915. So as Franklin Roosevelt used to say, the only thing most of us have to fear is fear itself.

Despite what our elected officials tell us, the abuse of legal drugs such as alcohol and barbiturates are a more significant crime vector than the abuse of illegal drugs such as heroin or marijuana. Of course, doing something constructive about alcohol abuse would threaten the profit margins of the multi-billion dollar advertising, bottling, and alcohol manufacturing industries. Equally importantly, doing something constructive about substance abuse would threaten the equally lucrative pharmaceutical, tobacco, alcohol, health care, and law enforcement industries. So the role alcohol plays in American violence is generally downplayed during public discussions of crime and violence.

As for learning to survive gunfights, the most important rule to remember is that only Superman is faster than a speeding bullet. No amount of training can change this. So you are living dangerously if you point a firearm, loaded or otherwise, at anyone you do not wish to kill. Yet the pastime remains popular in the United States. Firearms are involved in a quarter of all violent assaults in the United States, and are the instruments of death in over half of all North American homicides.

Whether firearms are useful for deterring violent crime is hotly debated. The answer appears to depend mainly on which crime we are trying to deter. For example, using firearms to deter burglars is not recommended, mainly because burglars generally strike when no one is home. So your gun simply becomes something else to steal.

Similarly, waving a firearm at your spouse during a domestic quarrel is hardly likely to stop the argument. Nor will it deter future quarrels. So, unless you have already decided to drop the hammer, it is wiser to run next door and call your minister or social worker than it is to point your favorite firearm at a friend or family member.

Firearms are also of doubtful value in deterring rapes. After all, most people don't carry guns into the boardroom or bedroom. Yet these are the places where most rapes occur. So while violence may be an appropriate response to a date rape, teeth, fingernails, and knees are more available (and probably appropriate) weapons of self-defense.

Finally, man-portable firearms have very limited value for deterring the legal violence that modern governments are capable of using. For example, even David Koresh's heavily armed Branch Dravidians proved incapable of resisting just a couple military armored vehicles. As a result hand-held video cameras and legal action are likely to provide most people a better defense against governmental abuses than firearms, regardless of size or caliber.

For Further Reading

Applegate, Rex. "Basic Instinct: Point Shooting Not Dead Yet," Soldier of Fortune, March 1995

Ayoob, Massad. The Truth About Self-Protection. (New York: Bantam Books, 1983)

Belli, Melvin and Allen P. Wilkinson. Everybody's Guide to the Law (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1986)

Bing, Léon. Do or Die (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991)

Brown, Carl. American Law and the Trained Fighter (Burbank, CA: Ohara, 1983)

Combs, Roger. Gun Digest Book of Hosters and Other Gun Leather: An In-Depth Examination of the Past, Present and Future of Gun Leather (Northfield, IL: DBI Books, 1983)

Charles, William M. II. Simplified Self-Defense for Women (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Association, 1986)

Cooper, Sydney C., Anne Scott, and the Editors of Consumer Reports Books. Home Security (Mount Vernon, NY: Consumer Reports Books, 1988)

Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crime in the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, various years)

Friedman, Lawrence M. Crime and Punishment in American History (New York: Basic Books, 1993)

Herbert, Anthony B. Military Manual of Self Defense: A Complete Guide to Hand-to-Hand Combat (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1991)

Jankowski, Martín Sánchez. Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991)

Latimer, Dean and Jeff Goldberg. Flowers in the Blood: The Story of Opium (New York: Franklin Watts, 1981)

Long, Duncan. Modern Ballistic Armor: Clothing, Bomb Blankets, Shields, Vehicle Protection . . . Everything You Need to Know (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1986)

Marshall, Evan P. and Edwin J. Sanow. Handgun Stopping Power (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1992)

Mashiro, N. Black Medicine: The Dark Art of Death (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1978)

McCoy, Alfred W. The Politics of Heroin (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, second edition, 1991)

Montaigue, Erle. Dim-Mak: Death Point Striking (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1993)

Morris, David B. The Culture of Pain (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991)

Nelson, Joan M. Self-Defense: Steps to Success (Champaign, IL: Leisure Press, 1991)

Styers, John. Cold Steel: Technique of Close Combat (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1974)

Tappan, Mel. Survival Guns (Rogue River, OR: Janus Press, 1976)

United States Army. Field Manual 21-150, Combatives, 30 Dec 1992

Weil, Andrew and Winifred Rosen. From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know about Mind-Altering Drugs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, revised edition, 1993)

Wilkerson, James A., editor. Medicine for Mountaineering and Other Outdoor Activities (Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, fourth edition, 1992)

Also view the videotape called Deadly Weapons: Firearms & Firepower by Anite Productions (Box 375, Pinole, CA 94564).

JNC Jan 2000