Moral Perversity In David Mamet

This is a first sentence only a teenage anarchist could write:

The police do not exist to protect the individual. They exist to cordon off the crime scene and attempt to apprehend the criminal… Violence by firearms is most prevalent in big cities with the strictest gun laws. In Chicago and Washington, D.C., for example, it is only the criminals who have guns, the law-abiding populace having been disarmed, and so crime runs riot. Cities of similar size in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and elsewhere, which leave the citizen the right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed in the Constitution, typically are much safer.

Look: for over two decades I lived on a street corner in DC actually named after a gang. I recall four people being shot dead in my alley or on the sidewalk outside during that time. I have regularly heard gunshots at night. And the police did protect me. By patrols, by check-points, by klieg-lighting at night, by conversations and consultations, they kept the neighborhood safer. Not safe, but definitely safer. Can they be there every time someone might get mugged? No. Do far fewer people get mugged now than they did a decade ago because of police work, among other things? Abso-fucking-lutely. That is what they exist for: to prevent crime, not just bring criminals to justice in the afermath. And in DC, over the last couple of decades, a new city emerged:


You will see in Mamet’s imaginary dystopia, this is a city in which “crime runs riot.” But every category of crime is down over the decade – with murder down almost a half in ten years. But how does it compare with comparable cities in Texas, Florida and Arizona – which Mamet cites as key evidence? First up: it’s worth noting that the FBI discourages simple ranking of cities by crime, for all sorts of reasons extrapolated here. So I will not throw this data out there, as Mamet did, without that caveat. Checking the numbers, however, for last year you find that in terms of aggrevated assault per 100,000 people, Miami and Houston have a rate of 361 and 329 respectively (third and fourth in the nation after Detroit and Baltimore. Chicago weighs in at 222 and DC at 154.

Robberies? The allegedly Marxist regimes in Chicago and DC clock in at fourth and tenth. That might seem to buttress Mamet’s point until you see that Miami and Houston are at fifth and sixth as well and that Phoenix and Dallas are not far behind.

Murders – which may be in Mamet’s mind, the most important thing that guns deter – has seen a resurgence in Chicago this year. But its rate per 100,000 (6.8) in a crime wave is still not that far from Miami/Fort Lauderdale’s (6.1). As for DC, compared with cities in Arizona, Florida and Texas, which Mamet cites, the numbers per 100,000 residents are these: Houston (5.4), Phoenix (4.9), Tampa (4.7), Dallas-Fort Worth (4.5) and DC (4.4). Again, I would reiterate that these are very crude numbers – but they do rebut the claim that cities in Texas, Arizona and Florida “are much safer” than Washington DC or Chicago. Four Three out of the top ten cities for crime are in Florida, Arizona and Texas.

As for Mamet’s claim that “there are more than 2 million instances a year of the armed citizen deterring or stopping armed criminals”, the evidence, so far as we can glean, seems to come from a 1993 study by Gary Kleck, which is also contained in this 1995 paper (pdf) by Kleck and Gertz, which finds 2.5 million annual “defensive gun uses” by individuals each year. This puts defensive gun use at about five times the frequency of criminal gun use. But another study (pdf) by McDowall and Wiersma criticized the Kleck results by noting that “defensive gun uses” were not defined by actual use of guns in self-defense, but by claims of deterrence by people carrying concealed guns. Which may account for the difference between that datapoint and the National Crime Victimization Survey, which found that “gun offenses exceeded protective incidents by more than 10 to 1.” That’s not another slightly different result; that’s a different universe from Mamet’s anarchist mindset.

I’m not making an argument for or against gun control here. I’m just trying to show that Mamet’s broad generalizations are empirically wrong and need to be corrected.