Apr 242013

This Freakonomics Radio podcast: This episode is a straightforward conversation between Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt, keeping in mind recent events like the Newtown, Ct., school massacre and long-standing traditions like the American embrace of guns.

Levitt has focused much of his academic career on crime research, including all sorts of gun policies that do and do not prevent violence. He has also analyzed the relationship between the economy and the crime rate, whether increased police presence affects crime, and whether deterrents like capital punishment and sentence enhancements actually work.

We begin this episode with some basic data. In the U.S., there are roughly 11,000 gun homicides and 20,000 gun suicides a year. (Our podcast “The Suicide Paradox” looked into why we hear so much less about the suicides than the homicides.) What we hear about more than anything are the relatively rare but extremely disturbing mass shootings. From the podcast:

“Mother Jones magazine recently built a database of mass shootings – four or more fatalities — over the past 30 years. Not everyone likes this database – it excludes, for instance, all gang shootings and armed robberies. But here are those numbers: since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings with 513 fatalities, or an average of 2 mass shootings and 16.5 fatalities a year. (Now, remember, keep in mind there are 11,000 gun murders each year in total.) Over just the past 10 years, those numbers are a bit higher – about 3 shootings a year, with 26 fatalities. But 2012 was a very bad year: 7 shootings with 72 fatalities, more than 4 times the average number of victims in a year from mass shootings.”


Stephen J. DUBNER: Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author. He’s an economist, at the University of Chicago. One topic he’s studied for lot of years, from a lot of angles, is crime. He’s tried to figure out which of many potential factors have a big impact on crime rates. More police and more prisons? That’s a yes. The economy? Mostly a no. Did the legalization of abortion help crime fall a generation later? That’s a yes. He’s also studied guns: gun laws, gun buybacks, gun crime.

Levitt and I were working together, in Texas, on the day back in December that a 20-year-old guy in Connecticut named Adam Lanza killed his mother, then shot up an elementary school, killing 20 little kids and six adults, and finally shot himself.


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Source: Freakonomics

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