In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Let’s put gun violence in focus

When President Barack Obama made a brief reference to gun violence in his second-term inauguration speech, he should have mentioned a new map of gun violence — it shows that Washington, D.C.’s murder rate is almost twice as high as that of violence-ridden Mexico.

The map, titled “Gun violence in U.S. cities compared to the deadliest nations in the world,” and authored by University of Toronto cities’ development guru Richard Florida, offers a fascinating view of the severity of the U.S. gun violence problem.

It turns out that while the U.S. mainstream media run hair-raising stories about the violence in Mexico, where more than 60,000 people have died in drug cartel-related violence over the past six years, most major U.S. cities have much higher gun-related murder rates.

Compared with Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Detroit or Miami, Mexico looks like peace-loving Switzerland.

Consider the map’s figures, which appeared Jan. 22 on the website, and are based on data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other sources.

• Washington, D.C.’s gun homicide rate is 19 murders per 100,000, almost twice as high as Mexico’s at 10 and slightly higher than Brazil’s at 18.

•  New Orleans, with 62 gun murders per 100,000 people, has nearly as high of a gun murder rate as Honduras, the most violent country in the world, with 68 gun homicides per 100,000 people.

• Detroit, with 36 gun murders per 100,000 people, has a higher gun-related murder rate than Colombia (27 per 100,000), which — like Mexico — is a frequent target of U.S. State Department travel advisories.

Baltimore’s gun homicide rate of 30 per 100,000 people, Newark’s 25 and Miami’s 24 are all significantly higher than those of the Dominican Republic’s 16.

•  Even New York, where gun murders have dropped to 4 per 100,000 people, has a higher gun-related homicide rate than Argentina with 3.

“The pattern is staggering,” says Florida. “A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.”

Granted, one can argue that it’s not fair to compare cities with countries. But many of the countries with the highest gun murder rates, such as Honduras, don’t have larger populations than some major U.S. metropolitan areas.

And, granted, there are plenty of gun statistics that, picked selectively, can be used to support all sides of the gun violence/gun control debate.

Gun lobby supporters cite the fact that while the United States is the No. 1 country in the world in gun ownership rates, its homicide rate — as a country — is 3 per 100,000 people, lower than that of most Latin American countries.

Gun control advocates reply that Britain, Norway, Sweden and other countries that make it much harder to buy guns than the United States have gun murder rates of below 0.5 percent, according to UNDOC figures.

According to Florida’s studies, there is a clear relationship between gun ownership and gun violence. Asked by email what he reads into this latest U.S. cities vs. countries gun violence map, Florida referred me to an article in which he stated that “firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun-control legislation.”

My opinion: I won’t get into the gun violence debate in this column. I have done it several times in the past and, in case you wonder, I think it’s time to reinstate the U.S. ban on semi-automatic weapons, and to place stricter controls on purchases of all kinds of weapons.

(Contrary to the National Rifle Association’s absurd claims that the U.S. Constitution prohibits any regulations to help reduce mass murders such as the recent massacre in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment doesn’t say that Americans have the right to buy semi-automatic rifles, or bazookas. And the NRA’s claim that banning semiautomatic weapons would violate the rights of hunters is even more outlandish — you don’t need a machine gun to shoot a pigeon.)

So, without going deeper into the gun violence debate, I just wanted to help put the gun violence statistics in perspective, so that the next time you read a U.S. State Department travel advisory about Mexico, or the next time you see a wide-eyed TV reporter breathlessly reporting about bloody massacres in Mexico, or Colombia, you can say to yourself, “Yeah, it’s almost as bad as in Washington, D.C.”

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

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