There is a saying in the news business … if it bleeds, it leads.
Unfortunately this is the sad state of affairs of our system of American infotainment. Modern gladiators, post-modern human horse races, death matches, misery and the macabre – this is what sells in the reality TV market – and over the last decade or so, that trope has seeped in, not only to what we see on the news, but how the news is reported, and what’s reported.
When we can’t get enough of the Bachelorette or the Real Housewives of Wherever, we turn to Nancy Grace, CNN, pundits and hyperbolic talking heads whose only job seems to be to whip us up into a frenzy. An effort that which, if successful, will keep us tuned in and forever in fear of what may befall us on our way down the frozen food aisle in our grocery store, in a movie theater, or when we send our children off to school.
Fear-based news stories prey on the anxieties we all have and then hold us hostage. Whether we are glued to the television or locked into a cornea-decaying trance with our computer screens, ratings and market shares go up and the general public grows more depressed, despondent and arrested with fear of what may happen because what they know is what they see. Indeed, you are what you eat. And we in the U.S. are on a steady diet of fatalistic news theatrics.
Considering the fact that iron core journalism is no longer palatable or profitable, it’s no surprise that our flows of information rarely go beneath surface level and are rife with inaccuracies, missing elements and a serious absence of truth.
So why should we be surprised that we’ve never heard about a Pew Research Center report from May 7, 2013 that shows a steady pace of decline over the past decade in gun homicides?
Well mostly because we’re already overwhelmed with the stories that capture the carnage, the inexplicability of why a human would want to commit mass murder and the paralyzing fear that keeps us indoors, tuned in to our favorite station.
In fact, the study shows that national rates of gun homicide and other violent crimes have declined since the 1990s, according to Pew’s analysis of government data. But the public is unaware.
Gun homicide rates dropped 49 percent from their peak in 1993, and there were fewer deaths in that time period even though the nation’s population grew.
According the study,
The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.
Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007. The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008. The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall also dropped in the 1990s before declining more slowly from 2000 to 2010, then ticked up in 2011.
Despite the national attention to the issue of gun violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was 20 years ago. According to a new Pew Research Center Survey, 56 percent of Americans believe gun crime is higher than two decades ago, while only 12 percent think it’s lower.
The decline in gun violence has been studied by researchers for years, and while there are theories to explain the trend, there is no consensus as to why it happened. Debate also continues about the degree of gun ownership in the country. Among researchers there is no disagreement that the U.S. has more civilian firearms (total and per capita) than any other nation. When compared with other developed nations, the U.S. does have a higher homicide rate and more gun owners, but not higher rates for other crime.
As you may infer, following the Newtown, Conn mass shooting, Aurora, CO., and others, public attention over firearms spiked, and gun control and crime reduction moved up as a priority in the polls and on political platforms. And now with the latest rampages in Isla Vista, CA and at Seattle Pacific mass shootings continue to be a matter of great concern and public interest, but still they appear to account for a relatively small share of shootings overall.
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics review, homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008. These homicides, most of which are shootings, increased as a share of all homicides from 0.5% in 1980 to 0.8% in 2008, according to the bureau’s data. A Congressional Research Service report, using a definition of four deaths or more, counted 547 deaths from mass shootings in the U.S. from 1983 to 2012.
Also consider this fact: there were 31,672 deaths from guns in the U.S. in 2010. Most (19,392) were suicides; the gun suicide rate has been higher than the gun homicide rate since at least 1981. But where is the concern about the sad state of mental health in this country?
Despite all this attention to gun violence, Americans remain unaware that it is remarkably lower than it was twenty years ago, with some 45 percent believing that the number has actually gone up.
Of course there is an entire host of factors behind the changing crime rates, which you can check out here, and the suggested relationship between gun ownership and gun homicide varies widely by region and locality, but some researchers, according to the National Academy of Science, maintain that gun ownership is elevated by gun violence but not the reverse.
Today the 24-hour news cycle is a constant barrage on our emotions. Indeed, it is a staple of popular culture. The fallout from this trend results in both adults and children who are exposed to constant media to feel that their neighborhoods and communities are unsafe, think that crime rates are rising, overestimate their odds of being a victim, and in general, to consider the world to be a dangerous place.
As a method of practice, always ask yourself, “who decides the news?” Watch the news with your filters set for proportion, conscience and truth. Or in the meantime, you may want to check your exposure and go on an infotainment diet. Remember that you have the power to turn off the TV, change the station, pick up a newspaper and take a break from the media assault to enjoy the simpler things in life.