Is Violence Too Widespread To Enjoy An American Road-Trip?
November 09, 2017

Is Violence Too Widespread To Enjoy An American Road-Trip?

Tera Bucasas and Spencer Norris had a dream. The Seattle-based married couple sold their possessions. They bought a 2014 Dodge ProMaster and converted it into a camper van. They put their mountain bikes on the back and stuck a surfboard and a stand-up paddleboard on the roof.

In April, they drove down the west coast of the United States, taking a circuitous route through some of America’s best-known national parks. “We don’t have a defined timeline for our trip,” says Tera. The 30-year old quit her job as a yoga teacher before taking her life on the road. Thirty-one year old Spencer created Wanderman Media. He’s a freelance videographer, often flying to specific locations for work, before meeting Tera back at their home on wheels.

They have spent the last 7 months living in their van. I wondered if they were ever afraid. After all, plenty of people think violent crimes are close to hitting an all-time high. On July 22, 2016, The Washington Postquoted President Trump saying America represents “a more dangerous environment than frankly I have ever seen, and anybody in this room, has ever watched or seen.”

Tera Bucasas and Spencer Norris
Pictured: Tera Bucasas and Spencer Norris
Photo: Andrew Hallam

This is a commonly held belief. In 2013, the Pew Research Centre reported that 56 percent of Americans believed gun violence was higher than it was twenty years previous. In a survey of registered voters in 2016, 57 percent of Americans believed crime had increased since 2008.

Lewis & Clark’s president, Barry Glassner, is one of America’s leading sociologists. He’s also the author of The Culture of Fear. Glassner says the media focuses on horrific events without putting them in perspective. He says the United States is much safer today than it was in the past.

Steven Pinker agrees. He’s the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The Harvard University Psychology professor says we’re probably living in the most peaceful time in human history. In a 2016 interview with NPR’s Michel Martin he says, “There has been a small increase in homicide in the United States in the last three years. But…those figures are at a fraction of what they were in the '60s, '70S and '80s.”

However, a 2015 Congressional Research Service Report by William J. Krouse and Daniel J. Richardson say mass shootings are increasing. This week, a single shooter killed 26 people at their church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The New York Times reported that a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas this year. A shooter killed 49 people on June 12th, 2016, in an Orlando nightclub.

The 2013 Global Study On Homicide says the United States is the most dangerous country in the developed world. The U.S. recorded 4.9 murders per 100,000 people. The World Bank’s data on intentional homicide says that’s five times higher than the murder rate in the European Union. For example, the Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, killed 58 people in a single day. According to the Global Terrorism database, that’s more than the combined total of all people killed in Western Europe during terrorist attacks over the past two years.

Despite that, however, the United States is safer than it was 20 years ago. The U.S. Department of Justice calculates weapons-related deaths each year. It includes mass shootings. They say there were 7.08 weapon-related deaths per 100,000 people in 1993. In 2016, there were just 4.66 weapon-related deaths per 100,000 people. That’s a drop of almost 45 percent.

Public perception of crime rate.

FBI Crime Statistics say much the same thing. Over the five-year period between 1993 and 1997, there was an average of 15,670 weapon-related homicides per year in the United States. Over the five-year period from 2012 to 2016, there was an average of 13,246 weapon-related homicides per year.

The Pew Research Center, however, says the typical person thinks crimes have increased–even though they haven’t. That’s a shame.

It’s something Spencer Norris reflected on, as he stood outside his van near Arches National Park, in Utah. “Plenty of people are afraid in their own homes,” he says. Despite sleeping in their van on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and National Forest land, Spencer and Tera aren’t afraid. “The main thing we fear,” says Tera, “is somebody knocking on the door of our van and saying we can’t park there.”

Deaths Caused By Weapons In The United States
(Including Mass Shootings and Explosives)

Year Weapon-Related Fatalities U.S. Population Weapon-Related Fatalities Per 100,000 People
1993 18,253 257,782,608 7.08
1994 17,257 260,327,021 6.63
1995 15,551 262,803,276 5.92
1996 14,037 265,228,572 5.29
1997 13,252 267,783,607 4.95
1998 11,798 270,248,003 4.0
1999 10,828 272,690,813 3.97
2000 10,801 281,421,906 3.84
2001 11,348 285,317,559 3.98
2002 11,829 287,973,924 4.11
2003 11,920 290,788,976 4.10
2004 11,624 293,656,842 3.96
2005 12,352 296,507,061 4.16
2006 12,791 299,398,484 5.04
2007 14,916 301,621,157 4.95
2008 14,224 304,059,724 4.68
2009 13,752 307,006,550 4.48
2010 13,164 309,330,219 4.25
2011 12,664 311,591,917 4.06
2012 12,888 313,873,685 4.07
2013 12,253 316,497,531 3.87
2014 12,270 318,857,056 3.84
2015 13,750 320,090,857 4.29
2016 15,070 323,127,513 4.66

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