Youth gun violence on a significant rise in Las Vegas

A recent rise in homicides in Las Vegas is being driven by teenagers with guns.  According to reporting by Rachel Crosby of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the number of murders in 2016 were sixty-one percent higher as of June over last year’s figures.  A majority of those killed were under forty years of age, and fifty-six percent of arrested suspects were in their twenties, while thirteen percent were adolescents.

This fits well into the observation that violence is often a youthful behavior that peaks in late adolescence and tapers off as offenders age toward thirty.  What we have here is a case of common sense matching evidence—violence is an energetic activity.  It’s also a male activity.  If we’re seeking for solutions to violent crime, a policy that successfully addresses young men would achieve the greatest results.

The Las Vegas police department chose “neighborhood engagement teams,” groups of three officers sent to problem areas with the assignment of going after the worst criminals and finding illegally possessed guns.  This solution works as long as the law enforcement agency has the personnel to devote to it and can afford such programs.  But with finite money and people, sending cops to do one job means that they’re not doing something else, or it means that the number of jobs that each person is expected to do gets multiplied without any corresponding increase in hours per day or dollars per hour.  The saying, good enough for government work, expresses the result of expecting more and more without corresponding increases in salary or other compensation.

What causes this violence is a subject of much debate.  Guns, movies, video games, drugs, testosterone—all have been blamed, mostly by people who find the answers that they’ve come up with to be satisfying to their ideology without any need for evidence.  There is some correlation between the numbers of single young men with nothing better to do and rates of violence in a society, though the evidence is much stronger in places in states of war or other lawlessness.

And that fact is a key point here, considering the technique tried by the LVPD.  Law and order is proposed as the solution to many problems, though this policy’s proponents aren’t so ready to pay for it.  But as the examples of Ferguson and too many other cities have shown, we cannot find our way out of violence by enforcement alone.

Education is one good answer, since the more educated people are, the less violent they tend to be.  But we have to have a culture that values education, and in a nation that complains so much about the too little money we spend on schools and has a strong anti-intellectual tradition, it’s clear that we don’t value education enough.

And we also have a nation in which low-skilled workers have a rapidly decreasing potential for a good life.  We can ameliorate this with social services, but only so long, since such services have to be paid for—just as schools and police do.  The longer-term answer is to find new roles for people in a world that builds things with robots.

America has long been a center for developing ideas and technologies.  As someone who has taught for the better part of two decades, I know that students are open to these things when they have the chance to explore them.  Their curiosity is easily squashed by schooling that focuses on rote memorization—the kind of schooling we’ve insisted on for some time now.  But imagine instead students encouraged to develop higher order thinking in the sciences and humanities.  We won’t reduce violence by calling for a return to the past when working on an assembly line could be a good job for life.  We can make things better by giving new opportunities that lead into the future.

This surely sounds like fantasy to many.  And perhaps it is.  But it’s a fantasy that has worked, both in this country and in the rest of the First World, and it’s worth trying again.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of