Maybe you remember the classic 1975 film, “Network,” where the anchor Howard Beale, throws open a window and shouts, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Perhaps that’s an explanation for the 2020 statistics on violent crime.
The good news-bad revelation is that the overall crime rate in our state declined again in 2020; however, violent crime increased by 31% year over year. Philip Cook, a professor of public policy at Duke University, said it was the largest increase since experts started keeping stats in the early ‘30s. “2020 became the most violent year of the 21st century,” Cook said. “It looks like that is also true for North Carolina.”
A crime is considered violent if it involves rape, robbery, aggravated assault or murder. Our state reported 44,452 violent crimes and 852 homicides, ranking us 21st in the nation — ahead of New York, Georgia and most Southeastern states, with the exception of South Carolina. We experienced 670 gun deaths, up from 2019’s 511, and there were 20 mass shootings. Preliminary evidence indicates these numbers will increase again this year.
After years of decline in violent crimes, how can we explain last year’s large increase, especially since most of us were cooped up in our homes for much of last year? Perhaps our pandemic frustrations morphed into anger. The hyper charged political climate could also have spawned violence and hatred. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that North Carolina has 29 active hate groups within our borders, groups that include white nationalists, neo-confederates, Ku Klux Klans, racist skinheads, Islamic, anti-immigration and Proud Boys.
Complete data from last year isn’t yet available, but we know the majority of gun-related deaths involved suicide. In 2019, suicide deaths were 1,358, and since violent crime numbers rose last year, it is reasonable to assume suicides did also. There are two responses to this data.
The first involves mental illness. Few can deny that our state’s mental health reforms, begun in 2003, are a disaster. Our state eliminated 854 psychiatric hospital beds from state facilities and re-directed funding to local communities. These local management entities were neither capable of dealing with the swell in patients nor able to provide adequate staffing and resources for them. Many with mental illness end up in emergency rooms, in county jails or commit suicide. Better options might have prevented some of these problems.
The second issue is gun control and I can already hear the gun lobby getting their dog-whistles ready to resist any restrictions to their Second Amendment rights. Take another look at what this article in the Bill of Rights says and doesn’t say.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In 1791, when the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, there was no massive federal Army, no full time or part time state militias, police or sheriff departments like we have today. It was essential to have citizen militia groups, and they needed guns to defend themselves and their communities.
We support that right today, but it has been abused to mean anyone can own any weapon they want and carry it anywhere they go. Whenever even the hint of gun control is raised, we hear threats that the boogey-man is trying to take all your guns. Not so. It is time for reasonable gun owners to show some backbone and admit there are too many guns too easy to buy and in the wrong hands. Daily we see headlines of drive-by and public shootings. Recently a North Carolina pastor called on his congregation from the pulpit to get gun training. Do we really want someone sitting in the pew next to us coming to church carrying?
What’s it going to take to move away from the anger and hatred evident today? We must lower the boiling point and find workable solutions for reducing both the anger and violent crime. For the time being, the best advice is the old time-honored axiom to count to 10 before taking action.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22½ years. Contact him at email@example.com.