Rural And Urban Realities

Evidently, urban and rural Americans live in worlds that are different in ways we haven’t previously recognized.

Recently, the Washington Post analyzed attitudes about guns and gun violence. The results of that analysis added yet another item to the growing list of experiential differences between city dwellers and their rural cousins.

The article began with a recitation of the depressing statistics we have become accustomed to reading:

On average, there are 276 gun homicides a week in America. There are 439 gun suicides. All told, there are, on average, nearly 1,200 incidents involving gun violence, every week, in America.

This landscape of gun violence — suicides, homicides, mass shootings, accidents — is not evenly distributed. Instead, it plays out over geographic and political dividing lines — and these may help explain why individual Americans see the issue so differently.

The most striking difference is also arguably the weirdest. In the nation’s cities, which are overwhelmingly Democratic (blue dots in even the reddest states), people are more likely to be murdered with a gun than they are to shoot themselves. In red America, mostly rural and mostly Republican, people are more likely to shoot themselves to death than they are to be murdered with a gun.

In other words, In the regions where most Democrats live, gun violence is more often committed against someone else. Guns are used in crimes that are likely to generate news coverage and stoke fears of victimization. In more Republican areas, gun violence is more often self-inflicted, and suicides are unlikely to attract as much attention or generate as much fear. So even though Republican areas have more gun violence than Democratic ones, the public reaction is different.

On average, there were slightly more gun deaths in Republican areas than Democratic-leaning ones in the decade from 2007 to 2016. The disparity in death rates was even greater — 5.7 per 100,000 in Republican-leaning counties, versus 4.7 in Democratic-leaning counties — due to the higher total population in counties won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Much of the disparity comes from the fact there are so many more suicides than homicides a year, and suicides are so much more prevalent in rural areas and small towns — a phenomenon that has been explored elsewhere

Guns kill or injure more children, teens and people in Democratic districts, and mass shootings occur more often in Democratic districts.

These Republican and Democratic breakdowns correspond strongly with National Rifle Association ratings. Of the 430 for which grades were available, only 33 (7.7 percent) deviated from the simple Republicans get “A” ratings, Democrats get “F” model.

Both support for the Republican Party and gun suicides increase the farther you get from urban America. (Research has shown gun ownership correlates strongly with gun suicide.) Many–perhaps most–people don’t see suicide as a public policy problem. According to Pew, only 32 percent of Republicans see gun violence as a “very big” problem and only 24 percent think gun laws should be stricter than they are today.

It is possible suicides do not spur more support for gun control because people figure popular gun control measures, such as banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines or tracking purchases, will not affect people who use guns against themselves. Prior analysis by The Post suggests that if the U.S. had a similar level of gun availability as other Western countries, firearm suicides would decline 82 percent and overall suicides would decline 20 to 38 percent.

This is useful information, and it may explain some otherwise confounding differences in policy preferences.

It doesn’t, however, explain why so many more rural Americans than city dwellers commit suicide…