Patriotism: Do you walk the streets?
And no, I don’t mean that way! (Pottymind)
You often hear that oh-so-wonderful patriotic call – „America is the finest country in the world.“ Probably one of the reasons I moved to Europe was to test this hypotheses. I still can’t answer the question but I can show some of the comparisons I’ve made. America doesn’t usually match up as well as you might like. I’d like to start these comparisons by comparing murder rates. (The Washington Post article got my dander up)
To preface this, many years ago a college friend visited me while on his honeymoon. At that time I lived in the less than wonderful part of town. (The hookers were friendly though.) Anyway, he nervously asked whether it would be safe to leave his rental car parked on the street. I was shocked. Of course, I had never given the idea much thought. Later we walked (yes – you can do that in Germany) into the city to go out to eat. Unlike America, most German cities don’t empty at 5:00PM. He and his new bride were freaked that we would feel safe enough to walk around the city at midnight. He lived in Seattle and wouldn’t have considered it. At that point I realised just how much I had taken for granted living in a country where it is literally safe to walk the streets. This post elaborates one facet of that issue.
Americans are proud of the right to ‘own and bear arms.’ I think this was probably both necessary and important during the founding years. That right has turned from an asset into a liability. The only way I could get a grip on my idea, “is Germany safer than America?” was to look at the statistics. Google is your friend. Now, I’m only going to look at murder and not an across-the-board comparison of countries or crime. I don’t do this for a living.
First we need to try to get a handle on the number of murders in Germany. Not quite a easy as you might think. I found two interesting sources. The first is the statistisches Bundesamt (Census Bureau, link in German, you have to download the xls at the bottm of the page and search a bit. The Germans don’t have that ‘easy to look up’ thing down very well). After digging a bit, we find for 2004 a listing of 528 deaths under “tätlicher Angriff” (assault). Comparing this with a population of 82.5 million, we get about 0.64 murders per 100,000 persons. This sounds about right because a blurb in Stern (a German news magazine similar to Newsweek, link in German) places Germany at 1.1, fourth best in a comparison of European statistics from 2002. I’ll use 1.1 simply because it’s higher and I can still illustrate my point.
Finding the American statistics is much easier, basically one stop shopping at
Wal-Mart the FBI (pdf). There, the statistics for 2004 give us a murder rate of 6.4. About 6 times the German value.
Is that bad? Really? No. Oh, sure it SOUNDS terrible. But realistically, you’re more likely to get run over by a car (maybe even a bus). Is it psychologically a problem? Definitely. Murder and mayhem, film at 11! This feeds the 24 hour national and half hour local news machines; more deaths, more headlines, more fear, more ratings. That’s why my friend on his honeymoon was so nervous. He has been trained to think, downtown + midnight = mayhem + murder.
You have the fear feedback. People are more nervous, more afraid. Scared people react strangely, overreact often. I suspect you get more overreaction in America.
In addition, the social stratification is higher. You are more likely to commit violent crime if your income bracket is lower relative to the rest of the population. Is this envy, anger, greed? I’d guess all three and more. But this is also why there are so many unsolved crimes. Here you still have the old style wife kills husband and feeds him to the pigs kind of story. Not anonymous “your money or your life” robbery/murders.
Finally, for lack of a better reason (or perhaps intelligence/imagination), I’d probably tip on handguns. A single shooting death would almost make NATIONAL news here. Handguns are only legal under extremely stringent conditions. You are still able to own a handgun, but if it isn’t your job to carry a handgun, you will have a problem if they find you with one without a good reason (sports). I just said more headlines, more fear. Fear leads people to seek safety. If you live in a city and think you’re threatened, you buy a handgun. I know I probably would.
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in a hunting family. My father taught hunters-safety for many years (a requirement for a hunters license in Colorado). I fully support the right to own rifles; I support the right to hunt . (Look, humans killed off all the natural predators, now we need to keep the some forms of wildlife under control or you get lots of dead trees and starving animals. Not a pretty sight) On the other hand, I’m a bit iffy on handguns.
Is there a solution? I don’t know. The NRA is right, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. The problem is that the ‘outlaws’ will probably outnumber the lawful citizens about 3 to 1 because no one will relinquish their firearms. Try though I might, I can’t see a pragmatic solution to the problem.
I can however, feel safe as I walk the streets.