Here’s the twist: Only 12 percent of Americans said they thought there was less gun crime than two decades ago, according to a Pew survey. Twenty-six percent said the rate hadn’t changed, and 56 percent said it had gone up. Women, people of color, and the elderly were particularly likely to believe gun crime was rising. “It’s hard to know what’s going on there,” says D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center. Why the disconnect between perceptions of violence and reality?
As for where crime guns came from, the study notes that less than two percent of convicted inmates reported buying their weapons at gun shows or flea markets. The highest number, 40 percent, said the guns came from a family member or a friend. About 37 percent said the weapons were stolen or obtained from an illegal source. The rest say the guns were bought at a retail store or pawn shop.
The point of the quote is to focus people on sources of mortality society-wide, because this focus can guide public policy efforts at reducing death. (Thus, the number is not a product of the base rate fallacy.) In my opinion, too many people are still transfixed by terrorism despite the collapse of Al Qaeda over the last decade and the quite manageable—indeed, the quite well-managed—danger that terrorism presents our society today.
Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.