Paul Prather

Rampant crime and a tanking economy? Really? Look again

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Fairly regularly, one or another of my Facebook friends announces that he has secured a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

I have no problem with that. I was raised around guns, and, quite literally, I learned to shoot before I could read or write.

What puzzles me is the notice of besiegement that accompanies these announcements.

This is my paraphrase, but it’s not paraphrased by much: Now I can protect my family from the bad guys out there who want to do us in. If good people don’t arm ourselves, the criminals will overrun us. It’s a dangerous world! Crime is awful and getting worse!

That post is then followed by other readers commenting: Well said! The pill heads (carjackers, apocalyptic zombies) have surrounded us! It’s do or die! God bless America while there’s still some America left!

And I think to myself: Really?

I’m 60, and I’ve walked on big-city streets from New York to Los Angeles, and I have lived mostly along an economically and pharmaceutically challenged edge of Appalachia, and so far I’ve never had to shoot my way out of a single situation.

Where, exactly, are these hordes of marauding thugs and fiends?

It’s not just gun permit declarations that make me scratch my head.

In general, a fair percentage of my fellow travelers seem convinced that we’ve fallen headlong into a dystopian nightmare. To me, things seem not so bad. As I mentioned last week, ISIS is nuts. Donald Trump scares me. But I personally don’t have to deal with them. Yet.

Down home here, on a day-to-day basis, it’s still business as usual.

Terrible things do happen to people, I realize, and could happen to any of us.

Anyone can lose a job. Anyone can get mugged or murdered, just as anyone can be maimed in a car accident or stricken by a brain tumor. But the odds of such things happening to any specific person remain small.

I decided to examine a few canards I’ve heard lately:

The economy has tanked. Um, no. Fact: The economy is encouragingly robust.

Gasoline is dirt cheap. On July 11, the S&P 500 Index closed at an all-time high. The unemployment rate for June was 4.9 percent, significantly better than a couple of years ago, and we added 287,000 jobs, much more than expected.

Clearly, our country has its financial trouble spots, too. But we’re not clawing at each other in the gutters for stale breadcrumbs. Ninety-five out of 100 of us remain gainfully employed. We drive cars. We eat well — many of us too well.

Violent crime is epidemic. Fact: Americans are safer than we’ve been in ages.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, in 1981, a typical crime year back then, the U.S. suffered 22,520 murders and violent (as opposed to accidental) manslaughters, a rate of 9.8 killings per 100,000 people.

Thirty-five years later, the annual per capita rate has dropped to half what it was then. In 2013, to choose a representative year, there were 14,196 murders and manslaughters, a rate of 4.5 per 100,000.

In just the 10 years from 2005 to 2014, violent crimes of all types (including killings, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) dropped 16.2 percent, the FBI said.

Police are under wholesale attack. Fact: being a cop today, like being a civilian, is significantly less dangerous than it once was.

Ambush slayings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge have led to a panic about a “war on police.”

Even one officer down is too many, of course. And in early 2016, there indeed were more police deaths from gunfire than during the same period in 2015, PBS reported. Specific numbers often fluctuate from year to year.

Historically, though, police deaths have been tracked according to deaths from all duty-related causes, including shootings, stabbings, beatings, drownings, auto accidents and the like.

In the 1930s — when the population of the country and presumably of officers was far lower — annually about 2½ times as many police perished on the job as die now. In 1930, for instance, 304 officers died nationwide, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Forty years later, in the 1970s, the numbers remained nearly as high.

By comparison, in 2015, 123 officers died, which is about typical now.

Sniper attacks against police aren’t new, either. An eerie parallel: in the 1970s, an AWOL serviceman — angry over the killing of two black men by Baton Rouge police — assassinated five New Orleans cops and four other people by shooting from sniper positions.

For some reason, many Americans today are convinced that the economy is in free-fall. They feel threatened by roving criminals. They think anarchists are slaughtering police.

They think lots of other things that are just as demonstrably mistaken.

I don’t know where these feelings of doom come from. Talk radio? Political demagogues? The coffee klatch at a local fast-food restaurant? Anxiety disorders?

If you want to feel besieged, that’s your privilege. I sometimes think I might be a reincarnated British general from the Great War.

We should not, however, allow our feelings to hijack our reason. That’s no way to live. We should regularly subject our feelings to a refreshing dose of facts.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at