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Violent crime down; mass murders rise

News coverage of such events is pervasive, while equally tragic events around us receive more matter-of-fact reporting

Dec 14, 2012


By Jeb Bladine
Of the News-Register


Editor's Note: This column was written and published prior to the Connecticut elementary school shooting tragedy on the morning of Dec. 14.

Where does all the craziness come from?

There was no warning, friends said, that 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts would walk through Clackamas Town Center shooting people with an AR-15 assault rifle. Two people died, another is badly injured and the young killer made himself the final fatality of that senseless event.

Roberts thankfully did not achieve “mass murderer” status, which the FBI defines as causing four or more deaths at one time. He did manage to draw the nation’s eyes to Oregon and yet another senseless, multiple killing scene.

We simply don’t know how to predict the violence.

A 30-year-old Washington County man in August killed a mother of five because she “insulted him and made him feel ugly.” In October, reportedly obsessed with a neighbor’s wife, Jonathan Holt of Gresham sexually assaulted and killed the young woman. The two couples were friends.

Actually, murder numbers are down. In fact, the rate of all violent crime in the United States has dropped dramatically, with the exception of mass murder incidents.

America’s murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 was at its lowest in nearly 50 years, and less than half the rate from a majority of years in the half century. Forcible rape cases, using that same scale, occurred at the lowest rate in 35 years. Similar smaller numbers are reported for assault and burglary cases.

However, there has been an escalation in mass murders.

Mass shootings occurred once or twice a decade during most of the 20th century. “Then, for no apparent reason,” reported Psychology Today, “they spiked, with nine during the 1980s and 11 in the 1990s. Since the year 2000 there have been at least 26, including the (movie theater) massacre in Aurora, Colo.”

News coverage of such events is pervasive, heightened by the proliferation of media outlets and a ‘round-the-clock news cycle. The spectacle of public terror attracts a surplus of local and national attention, even while equally tragic events around us receive more matter-of-fact reporting.

A search for answers will include the mandatory gun control proposal, but it won’t prevent the next madman — virtually all mass murders are men — from snapping.

The numbers indicate violent crimes are down, and modern law enforcement moves quickly when social situations spark an increase in specific areas. But it remains unsettling to witness the rise of mass murders in recent decades, and not know if that terrible trend will turn around.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@news register.com or 503-687-1223.

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