Las Vegas Is a Great Place to Get Away With a Non-Lethal Shooting - Pacific Standard

Las Vegas Is a Great Place to Get Away With a Non-Lethal Shooting

Why are shootings with a surviving victim so under-investigated in Sin City, and chronically overlooked in the post-Newtown national gun policy debate?
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The Las Vegas Strip in late 2009. (PHOTO: LASVEGASLOVER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Las Vegas Strip in late 2009. (PHOTO: LASVEGASLOVER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Ninety-three percent of non-fatal shootings have gone unsolved in Las Vegas over the past three years, according to Las Vegas Sun columnist J. Patrick Coolican. Perhaps more disturbingly, the city might not even be an outlier. Coolican points to a more extensive Newark Star-Ledgerinvestigation that turned up similarly dispiriting rates for New Jersey's nine most violent cities: 65 percent of homicide cases were closed in 2010, versus only 21 percent of non-lethal shootings (by comparison, less than 25 percent of homicides go unsolved in Sin City). Criminologists confirmed for the Sun columnist that large urban areas typically do not have the information or resources they need to respond to these particular incidents.

Non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased in 2011 for the third straight year.

Murder cases merit priority status for obvious reasons, and municipal budgets that fund cops are still struggling to recover from the recession (the Las Vegas Metro Police Department alone has eliminated more than 500 positions in recent years). But the numbers from Vegas and New Jersey point to a national trend that has been under-discussed in the post-Newtown debate over gun legislation. As Factcheck.org pointed out: non-fatal gun injuries from assaults increased in 2011 for the third straight year, it’s highest rate since 2008. More from Factcheck: “Since 2001, the rate of gun injuries is the second highest in 11 years when adjusted for population.”

Declining rates of gun homicides were a talking point throughout the debate over the failed Manchin-Toomey bill that would have expanded background checks for certain kinds of gun purchases. Increasing non-lethal shootings came up far less, but should probably shade the conversations about gun policy (as well as police budgets) more. And they probably would if we had statistics better than spotty police records and the Centers for Disease Control’s fairly speculative national estimates based on emergency room surveys. As it stands, we’ve left it to doctors and first-responders getting better at treating gunshot victims, and trauma centers specializing in those types of injuries becoming more common, to reduce gun homicide rates that resemble nations with a fraction of our wealth and power.

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