A few observations about the shocking attack in Aurora, Colo., during which 12 moviegoers were killed by a single gunman, and dozens more wounded.
When compared with other Western nations, the United States remains a violent country. The murder rate of 5 per 100,000 people is far higher than any of its European allies. This is a nation awash in guns. We see no justification for citizens having easy access to purchase assault weapons designed for combat and created to impart mass casualties on enemies. But we recognize the political strength of the NRA and so don't expect any rational changes in these gun policies anytime soon.
That being said, violent crime is actually on the decline. According to FBI data, the current murder rate is half what it was at the beginning of the 1990s. Robberies in 2010 were down 10 percent from just the year before. The decline defies the traditional expectation that crime, particularly violent crime, will increase during economic hard times.
Reasons given for this decline are largely speculative - improved law enforcement; an aging population; increased incarceration; reduced human interaction due to digital communication; even, chillingly, the availability of legal abortion.
Yet public perception is often formed not by statistics, but by emotion. The random, horrific attacks with multiple victims, such as that seen in Aurora and far too often in our recent history, get far more media attention and pack a greater emotional punch than any FBI report. Such attacks are an alarming invasion into the routine. If it is not safe in a suburban cinema, then where is it safe? People can process and compartmentalize murder for greed, passion, gang supremacy. But the actions of seeming madmen, with no rationa explanations, how does one prepare for, avoid or understand those?
Colorado, the location of the "Batman" movie killings and of Columbine, has a murder rate of 3.2 per 100,000, a notch above Connecticut's 3 and better than the national average. Louisiana is the state with the highest murder rate, 12.3, while New Hampshire is the lowest at 0.9 (and, we acknowledge, has plenty of guns).
The issues are, in a word, complex.
The nation mourns and empathizes with the families of the victims. But this incident, as horrible as it was, is no reason to live in fear. It does not define Americans. But the frequency of such acts points to something troubling and that is worth exploring.