Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easier.

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Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easier.

Postby Deepbluediver » Wed Apr 29, 2015 6:54 am

I'd kinda hoped we were done with the police-violence debate, and yes I realize I'm being somewhat hypocritical since I'm the one making a new thread, but I kinda think today's comic and Tailsteak's comments are overselling it a bit. While police train extensively for violent conflicts because this is the worst possible scenario, it's a kind of thing that I believe MOST cops would much prefer to avoid. When I visited the police-station in my home town (a city of about 130,000) the officer showing us around said that in 25 years on the force he'd never once had to fire his gun at a person. When I was looking up statistics for police violence in some of the older threads one site estimated shootings as high as 1000+ events per year (compared to the more official numbers of a few hundred). That seems like a lot but we live in a country of almost 300 million people with (depending on the source) 500,000-1 million cops.

Police-shootings tend to make the news a lot, and losing someone is a personal tragedy, but in a country where on an average day 2,500 people will die of one cause or another, death-by-cop doesn't even register as a blip on the radar. For a murder-oriented-profession, the majority of cops spend an awful lot of time not shooting people.


In keeping with my preference for individual rights and my distrust of the government to do things well, I tend to favor limited gun regulation and the right for law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms. The best arguments I've heard for gun control are the "guns are only useful for violence" one- yes I can smash someone's head in with a TV or run them over with a car, but those things have other purposes as well. Sport-shooting is a thing, but it's kind of a minor industry, relative to other forms or entertainment.
And the second argument is the suicide one. AFAIK the majority of suicides in the U.S. are still done with a firearm. Other countries have similar suicide rates from other methods (tall buildings, drinking drano, etc) but lower suicide rates overall because people don't have as easy an access to guns. On the one hand my instinctive reaction is that this is really an argument for better mental health-care, but when something like 2/3rds of approx. 40,000 deaths every year are from people sticking a gun in their mouth and pulling the trigger, that's an issue.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby Defnestor » Wed Apr 29, 2015 7:44 am

If you examine the numbers, people who carry guns, legally, are less likely to commit violence than the general population. It's almost like taking responsibility, makes you more responsible. Exercising a moral muscle, if you will. Here's a link to an article on the subject.
http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/12/foghorn/ny-times-uses-deceptive-statistics-to-promote-anti-gun-agenda-again/
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby crayzz » Thu Apr 30, 2015 11:43 am

DBD, those numbers would put the murder rate by cops at twice the general murder rate.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby Deepbluediver » Thu Apr 30, 2015 12:24 pm

crayzz wrote:DBD, those numbers would put the murder rate by cops at twice the general murder rate.

I'm sorry, but can you be more clear about what you mean? Is it that cops shoot people at twice the rate civilians shoot people?
Also, murder has a very specific legal definition, which is distinct from homicide.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby crayzz » Thu Apr 30, 2015 1:40 pm

Sorry, I transposed a zero in my head. The actual number is 20 times.

The US homicide rate (according to wikipedia, at least) is 4.7 per 100000 per year. For a population size of 1 million, we would expect 47 deaths. If the police are killing 1000 people a year, they are killing 21 times the number of people a similar sized general population would kill.

A more conservative estimate of 500 per year still puts the rate at 10 times the general rate. A frankly unjustifiably conservative estimate of 250 per year still puts the rate at 5 times the general rate.

I am using murder loosely. Though given the propensity of lying and utter lack of investigation + oversight going on, I strongly suspect it is accurate more often than not.

EDIT

I'm not sure where you're getting your police population size, but I suggest that it is a large overestimate. I'm guessing many of them are not on active duty, and are therefore rarely in a position to kill anyone. They probably shouldn't be counted.

EDIT-2

This study suggests that about 20 million adult Americans are felons:

"If we adopt a more inclusive definition of the criminal class, including all convicted of a felony regardless of imprisonment, these numbers increase to 19.8 million persons, representing 8.6 percent of the adult population"

Assuming all the homicides come from this population, that's 700 homicides per 1 million criminals. That places the police about 50% more deadly than felonious citizens if the police commit 1000 homicides per year, and about 30% less deadly at 500 homicides per year.

EDIT-3

Combining the census data for local and state LEOs with census data for federal LEOs places the total population of officers* at 920 thousand. This would cause a modest bump (about 9%) in the police homicide rates. Limiting to only state and local LEOs (my intuition is that most of the homicides are committed by state and local LEOs) would cause an at most 25% increase in the above homicide rates.

*note that I'm limiting the population to people with the power to arrest others. People employed by law enforcement agencies without that power are excluded.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby Deepbluediver » Fri May 01, 2015 8:01 am

crayzz wrote:Sorry, I transposed a zero in my head. The actual number is 20 times.

It seems like ridiculous standard though to hold cops to the same level as civilians, unless you've got a virtually crime-free society. By the very nature of their jobs they are required to interject themselves into dangerous situations with potentially violent people more often than the rest of us.

The US homicide rate (according to wikipedia, at least) is 4.7 per 100000 per year. For a population size of 1 million, we would expect 47 deaths. If the police are killing 1000 people a year, they are killing 21 times the number of people a similar sized general population would kill.

I will try to find the website where I got that number- I believe it might have been shootings, not deaths. I didn't bookmark all the links from my previous discussions, I'll have to search my old posts and google some stuff. For the moment though I'm relying on my memory.

The fact that better data isn't readily available though is something bordering on criminal, IMO. I fully support a more thorough system for tracking and evaluating violent incidents involving the police. I personally believe it would exonerate them in most cases, and if it didn't then it would provide a basis for which we can start our reforms.

I am using murder loosely. Though given the propensity of lying and utter lack of investigation + oversight going on, I strongly suspect it is accurate more often than not.

That might work in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law you can't just assume guilt.

I'm not sure where you're getting your police population size, but I suggest that it is a large overestimate. I'm guessing many of them are not on active duty, and are therefore rarely in a position to kill anyone. They probably shouldn't be counted.

I believe I had read it somewhere, but I'll try to find a source to site. I know that New York City has about 35,000 cops (at least that's the number in the newspaper, because they are debating adding more) and a population of about 8.5 million. If the rest of the county had the same proportion, then we would expect about 1.2 million cops, total (please double-check my math). Obviously the proportions aren't exactly the same everywhere, but if I'm using Fermi estimation correctly (like XKCD taught me) then I'm probably in the right ballpark.

This study suggests that about 20 million adult Americans are felons:
"If we adopt a more inclusive definition of the criminal class, including all convicted of a felony regardless of imprisonment, these numbers increase to 19.8 million persons, representing 8.6 percent of the adult population"
Assuming all the homicides come from this population, that's 700 homicides per 1 million criminals. That places the police about 50% more deadly than felonious citizens if the police commit 1000 homicides per year, and about 30% less deadly at 500 homicides per year.

If cops are killing criminals faster than the criminals are killing the rest of us, a lot of people would term that a success.

I support almost any effort to bring down acts of violence in ALL segments of the population though, and a decrease in the use of military or SWAT tactics in all but the most justifiable situations.

Combining the census data for local and state LEOs with census data for federal LEOs places the total population of officers* at 920 thousand. This would cause a modest bump (about 9%) in the police homicide rates. Limiting to only state and local LEOs (my intuition is that most of the homicides are committed by state and local LEOs) would cause an at most 25% increase in the above homicide rates.

*note that I'm limiting the population to people with the power to arrest others. People employed by law enforcement agencies without that power are excluded.

I guess that fits in with my estimation for the total number of police then.


I'm still trying to find the sources I read before, but if I am remembering correctly, the rate of police violence has declined in conjunction with the overall drop in crime-rates over the last few decades. Surprise surprise- when fewer people commit crimes the police has less reason to go Rambo on them. Whether it's come down enough probably depends at least in part on what your view of the police is like and what you think their primary responsibilities are.


Edit: I believe this is the link I was thinking of- http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/anot ... homicides/
It estimates 1,000 deaths per year at the hands of police operating in the line of duty.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby crayzz » Fri May 01, 2015 10:54 am

I looked into last night. You brought up the fivethirtyeight.com source in the last thread (and thank you, it was a very interesting read: in retrospect the statistical techniques are pretty obvious) which lists 930 to 1240, and http://www.killedbypolice.net/ lists 2258 deaths since May 2, 2013 (about 1128 a year). Taking the average, with the bounds of the range weighed only half, gives 1106 deaths per year.

It seems like ridiculous standard though to hold cops to the same level as civilians, unless you've got a virtually crime-free society. By the very nature of their jobs they are required to interject themselves into dangerous situations with potentially violent people more often than the rest of us.


It seems to be ridiculous to be dismissive of police homicides on the basis of low numbers, when in fact said police homicide rates are more than an order of magnitude greater than that of the general population.

EDIT

The demands that we hold the police to a different standard seem one sided. True, they deal with criminals, but they also have training, experience, and the support of an organization; they are well funded professionals with a responsibility to the populace: they should held to a higher standard.

That might work in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law you can't just assume guilt.


Why do you keep saying this? Are you strawmanning, or obfuscating?

If cops are killing criminals faster than the criminals are killing the rest of us, a lot of people would term that a success.


A lot of people are bad people.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby Deepbluediver » Fri May 01, 2015 11:42 am

crayzz wrote:It seems to be ridiculous to be dismissive of police homicides on the basis of low numbers, when in fact said police homicide rates are more than an order of magnitude greater than that of the general population.
....
The demands that we hold the police to a different standard seem one sided. True, they deal with criminals, but they also have training, experience, and the support of an organization; they are well funded professionals with a responsibility to the populace: they should held to a higher standard.

Ok, what WOULD be a reasonable proportional rate then? Having training for being able to deal with violent, possibly armed, criminal safely doesn't translate into being able to defuse every situation in a non-violent manner.

Why do you keep saying this? Are you strawmanning, or obfuscating?

Trying to get you to realize that being overly dramatic won't help your case. I fully support reasonable reforms, but calling something "murder" when it isn't is the kind of tactic that leads to the real, accurate information being dismissed as equally sensationalized.

A lot of people are bad people.

But unless they are in prison, they still get a vote, and a "tough on crime" platform tends to get a lot of support in a lot of places. Reform is easier if you can find a way to work WORTH popular opinion rather than impose some sort of regime from the top down.
Last edited by Deepbluediver on Fri May 01, 2015 12:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby Deepbluediver » Fri May 01, 2015 12:48 pm

I've looked up several different sources for total "deaths by cop", and the numbers seem to all over the place year-year. It seems like number dropped a bit from 1990 to 2000 and then started to climb a bit, but virtually all of the sites added the caveat that the data that was officially being counted came from such a small number of sources (only 1-2% of police districts nationally) that it was virtually useless.
However it seems that I was wrong before- I can't find any evidence that actual deaths are on the decline in the decades from 1990-2010.

What I was able to find is the annual firearms discharge report for New York City: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/ ... t_2011.pdf
(there are more recent ones but this had a good chart going back quite a ways)

Skip to page 65 (or 83 going by the sidebar) and it shows a chart with the number of incidents in which police officers discharged their weapons going back to the 1970s, and there is an overall decline. To me, that seems promising.
Last edited by Deepbluediver on Fri May 01, 2015 3:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Guns don't kill people but they sure make it a lot easie

Postby vvn » Fri May 01, 2015 3:02 pm

I admit my take on the 20x number is a bit different to me than to what I am reading.

My first reaction to this was "I better start carrying a gun."

Why? Cops are daily dealing with people committing crimes, and potentially in danger. That's why they carry a weapon. they do this every (working) day. No one (ok, not many) questions the idea that cops should carry guns. At my job the number of days a year I expect to encounter a dangerous person is..zero. But, if it is actually 5% as likely as a cop, I need a gun.

I thought about this a bit more yesterday when I was talking to a detective wearing a gun. I would guess that a plain clothes detective has a much lower chance of needing a gun than a patrol officer. Possibly by a ratio as high as 20-1. That being the case, we all should be wearing guns. (Assuming that police detectives have good reason to be doing so.)

I am not going to start carrying a gun. But, I do think that ratio needs to be higher. If I continue to speculate wildly, I would say the fact that it is as low as 20-1 is that most police shootings are justified, and most civilian shootings are not. So, I vote we change that number by reducing the civilian shootings.
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