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July 16, 2013

Lost in the Zimmerman Trial Coverage: Homicide Rate for Youth at 30-Year Low


Late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the homicide rate for those 10 to 24 years of age has hit a 30-year low. Let’s credit USA TODAY for running an article on this news while acknowledging that this report was lost in the tireless news coverage of the George Zimmerman trial verdict.

One of the cable news networks may have put an expert on air about the positive results of this study, but I doubt it. There’s not much drama in statistics, after all, especially those showing that things are safer.

The CDC study echoed similar findings from the U.S. Department of Justice released in May that reported a 39 percent decrease in firearms-related homicides and a 69 percent decrease in non-fatal crimes involving firearms since 1993. The Pew Research Center at about the same time reported survey results that show most Americans are unaware that crime involving the use of firearms is lower today than it was 20 years ago. Only 12 percent of our population knew such crime has declined.

This has occurred even as firearms ownership has become more widespread. We have seen dramatic increases in firearms sales since 2008. More guns have not resulted in more crime. But with crime saturated media stories, who can blame the public for being misled?

The lower homicide rate reported by CDC last week was seen across all racial and ethnic groups, although it was falling at a slower rate for African-American youths, who continue to kill each other in heartbreaking numbers. We can all agree that more must be done to address this ongoing societal problem and the report offers multiple approaches including police tactics focused on gang activity and repeat offenders and school programs that help youth turn away from violence as socially acceptable for conflict resolution.

We know, of course, that cities such as Chicago with the toughest gun control laws also tend to have the highest violent crime rates. Yet, in the wake of the not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman case and its clear inapplicability to the causes of most urban violence, some opportunistic politicians are stepping forward to renew the call for more gun control.

While media attention focuses on dramatic but aberrant cases, we must continue to promote policy-making based on facts, not distractions such as focusing on lawful firearms owners in a misbegotten effort to “do something,” which actually does nothing to address violence in our cities. And, as our industry has proven through multiple programs over many years, such as Project ChildSafe and Don’t Lie for the Other Guy, we continue to provide meaningful solutions toward helping prevent access to guns by unauthorized individuals. Our FixNICS initiative is making forward progress to make states enter all appropriate records, including adjudicated mental health records, into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Violent crimes have decreased meaningfully and the public needs to know this. Solving long-term societal problems that have multiple causes requires perspective and multiple solutions. We are stepping up to do our part based on our knowledge and expertise while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. Others should do the same.