Are You Feeling Smug?

Suppose that you live in a town where you know practically everybody or that you live in the country and rarely lock your doors. You leave windows open at night, and neighbors stick their heads in your screen door on Sunday afternoons to holler, “Hello, anybody home?” Folks lift their hands off their steering wheels and wave when they pass you on the highway, whether they recognize you or not. You live in a snug rural environment, and the last thing you typically think about is crime. Murder, robbery, carjacking, mugging — those are daily events in the big city. You have your concealed carry permit just because you might need it when you go there. I’m not going to call you a country rube or redneck or anything like that. I’m just going to suggest you that you may (or may not) be uninformed.

A widely quoted study released by the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 says that the risk of death from an injury is 20 percent higher in rural areas and small towns than in cities.

“Cities do happen to be the safest place you can live,” claimed Dr. Seth Myers, a Pennsylvania pediatrician and researcher. “Cars, guns and drugs are the unholy trinity causing the majority of injury deaths in the U.S.” Myers noted that when people think of a lack of safety in big cities, they think of homicides. She admitted that, indeed, homicide rates are higher in cities, but “the overall number of deaths from homicides is dwarfed by deaths from unintentional injuries.”

Overall, the Pennsylvania study reported that the risk of death from a firearm was no different in a rural setting than an urban setting. For some groups of people, however, particularly children and people older than 45, firearms deaths were higher in rural areas. For people ages 20 to 44, the risk of death by firearm was greater in big cities. So the University of Pennsylvania claims that a fall off a ladder when using a chain saw or a crash when speeding on a dark country road are logically and statistically equivalent to murder. I’m calling bogus on this study.

In 2016, for the second year in a row, violent crime increased in many of the nation’s largest cities. Metropolitan areas saw jumps in homicide, robbery and aggravated assault. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MajorCitiesChiefs.com), which collected data from 61 metropolitan police agencies, U.S. cities had 6,407 homicides in 2016, an 11 percent increase from the year before. Dallas, Las Vegas, Louisville, Memphis, Phoenix and San José are all seeing rises in killings, as are many smaller cities that typically have low murder rates. Arlington, Texas, for example, had four homicides in 2015 but 18 in 2016; Salt Lake City saw six in 2015 compared to 14 in 2016.

Speaking for the Major Cities Chiefs Association, executive director Darrel Stephens noted gang violence and retaliation, drug violence, firearms incidents and even problems related to conflicts originating on social media. And consistently, violent crime is often concentrated in just a handful of neighborhoods. In Chicago, for instance, most homicides occur in a few areas on the south and west sides. And almost every city cooperating for this study reported an increase in gang violence.

Denis A. Ladbrook, Ph.D., at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, claims that the results apply across cultures. He says that there are three reasons why crime is higher in urban areas than in rural areas: Cities are crowded, people migrate to cities from the country and cities have more young people. In other words, cities are inherently more violent and have more crime because, well, they’re big crowded cities. Thank you, academic community.

It seems to me that the jury is out, but all things considered, I like the idea of hearing crickets through an open window at night instead of sirens and street noise. I like the idea of neighbors dropping by to say hello instead of having six locking devices on the apartment door. I like the idea that I can always lift a hand to wave at someone I don’t know while keeping my other hand firmly on the butt of my pistol. So for me, I vote for smug and redneck as my brand.

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