Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

America the Homicidal? Not Quite

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

America the Homicidal? Not Quite

Article excerpt

The Newtown, Conn., tragedy took place amid a parade of homicidal images, stories and films so steady that it almost goes unnoticed.

Kids obsess over video games in which they kill, shoot and rob their way to riches. Last season's finale of "The Walking Dead," AMC's zombie-killing flesh feast, was the most-watched television episode in cable history. At the cinema, "Hitchcock" spends two hours narrating how "Psycho," perhaps the godfather of the slasher film, came to be. On bookshelves, the big bestseller is "Gone Girl," a novel about the disappearance of a wife, perhaps killed by her husband.

So, America, amid this cultural bloodbath, it should come as no surprise to you that we are killing each other . . . about as seldom as we ever have. The national homicide rate for 2011 was 4.8 per 100,000 citizens -- less than half of what it was in the early years of the Great Depression, when it peaked before falling precipitously before World War II. The peak in modern times of 10.2 was in 1980, as recorded by national criminal statistics.

"We're at as low a place as we've been in the past 100 years," said Randolph Roth, professor of history at Ohio State University and author of this year's "American Homicide," a landmark study of the history of killing in the United States. "The rate oscillates between about 5 and 9 ?per 100,000, sometimes a little higher or lower, and we're right at the bottom end of that oscillation."

Last year's rate was the lowest of any year since 1963, when the rate was 4.6, according to the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Don't relax quite yet: Americans still kill one another at a much higher rate than do citizens of other wealthy nations.

"By international standards, we never really get to 'low,'" Mr. Roth said.

And, no matter what your favorite politician says about gun control or the lack of it, the homicide rate has been near stagnant or falling for 21 consecutive years -- even as images of violence have proliferated, even as the stock market has soared and crashed, as political upheavals have come and gone, as drugs have waxed and waned, even as the number of high-profile mass killings like the one in Newtown has risen. …

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