A middle class is gun control

Yesterday I explored the efficacy of gun control laws in preventing gun related homicides.  I used statistics from 15 metropolitan statistical areas throughout the US to suggest that strict gun regulation does not appear to have a causal effect on the reduction of gun related homicides.  Those homicides also fail to neatly correlate with population.

Generally, there is some scalability with crime but population, and one could therefore posit density, doesn’t have a unique effect on the number of gun related homicides. Manhattan is exceedingly densely populated but is less dangerous that areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn for instance.

An all out ban on assault rifles in Michigan also doesn’t serve to make Detroit any safer than Boston, which has similar although not as strict limitations on assault weapons.

But then what is it that creates an environment of general gun violence?

One of the interesting things to appear in the maps of homicides and income distribution is the proximity of poor, violent neighbourhoods to very wealthy, safe neighbourhoods.  The Bronx for instance has neighbourhoods with a median household income of less than $16,000 plagued by violence very close to safe neighbourhoods on the other side of Central Park with median incomes above $100,000.

If you missed them yesterday, here are the maps for New York City:

NYC 2007 Homicide Map



NYC Income Map


Now it would be simple to say that poor neighbourhoods have more crime than rich neighbourhoods, and while I’m sure some people would be offended by that statement, they simultaneously wouldn’t be very shocked.  But is it that simple?  Or, does the proximity of wealthy neighbourhoods to economically dilapidated neighbourhoods also play a role?

Yesterday I also provided these similar maps of Los Angeles:

LA 2007 Homicide Map



LA Income Map


Again we see that the poor neighbourhoods of South-Central LA are much more dangerous than other neighbourhoods.  But what we also see is that the poor neighbourhoods of East LA aren’t quite as struck by homicides.  And this is where proximity appears to come into play.

While East LA’s poor neighbourhoods are surround by a gradual increase in economic power into the wealthier neighbourhoods, large parts of South-Central and even Long Beach border directly on some of LA’s wealthiest neighbourhoods.  Watts in South-Central has a median household income of just $25,161 but is located only a few miles from Manhattan Beach, with a median income of $136,481.  And all that lies between Watts and Manhattan Beach is abject poverty by LA’s standards.

And this appears to be the crux of the problem.  South-Central has no apparent buffer zone between poverty and wealth, while East LA does.

But the existence of these conditions in New York and LA aren’t enough to genuinely suggest this is the fundamental problem driving violence.  So let’s explore another city.  Let’s try Chicago:

A murder map for Chicago in 2009.

A murder map for Chicago in 2009.


From the New York Times interactive census explorer, an income map of Chicago for 2009

From the New York Times interactive census explorer, an income map of Chicago for 2009

Again, notice how Chicago’s poorest inner-city neighbourhoods border directly on its wealthiest neighbourhoods.  There’s no buffer zone to speak of.  While there should theoretically be a transition between these neighbourhoods, clusters of houses with incomes above $200,000 are usually in very close vicinity to houses with roughly 1/7th the income.  That’s not just disparity, it’s extreme disparity with close proximity.

Now, if it’s true that cases of extreme income disparity tend to cause greater instances of homicides – the vast majority of which are gun related – then the reverse should also be true.  Relative income equality should mean that violence is essentially equally dispersed over a city. And to see if that’s true, let’s look at a city with lax gun regulation.  Let’s look at Dallas, Texas:

A map of murders in Dallas in 2009.

A map of murders in Dallas in 2009.


A income distribution map for Dallas in 2009.  Darkest purple is around $10,000 and brightest yellow is around $250,000.

A income distribution map for Dallas in 2009. Darkest purple is around $10,000 and brightest yellow is around $250,000.

Notice a difference? Yes, homicides are fewer in the richest neighbourhoods.  But, as income appears to be relatively evenly distributed and their are gradual transitions into the wealthier neighbourhoods, the instances of homicide are relatively evenly distributed.  In fact, the presence of Southern Methodist University in North Dallas may account for at least part of the lack of homicides in North Dallas.  Higher education levels tend to produce less murders and neighbourhoods around universities usually house people with higher education levels.

It’s important to specify that within a city you can expect to find a wide range of neighbourhoods with varying degrees of wealth.  We shouldn’t expect that not to be the case.  The solution, as North Dallas indicates, is not to make the wealthy neighbourhoods poorer.  But what may help city planners and even politicians all the way up the federal level would be to focus on the transition zones.  A gradual increase in wealth between neighbourhoods appears to do two very important things:

1. It reduces the overall incidences of homicides and that means gun related crimes.

2. Those transitions may be providing poor neighbourhoods with an indication that the social ladder actually exists. And that provides hope and real benefits in terms of schooling and cultural integration.

To sum up, we can make the greatest leaps forward in reducing homicides and crime in general by having a healthy, and existent middle class within the dense urban boundary.  Apparently those bastions of acceptable mediocrity don’t do as much good if you put them all in Queens or Staten Island or Thousand Oaks or St. Charles.