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Good Question: Are We More Violent Than Before?

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — From the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. to Sunday’s temple attack outside Milwaukee, Wis. — two mass shootings in two weeks have raised a lot of Good Questions.

Like, are we more violent than we’ve ever been before? We found how easily perception can play tricks on reality.

The stories are heartbreaking, the crimes are senseless. They are disturbing, no doubt, but maybe not as dark as these days may seem.

For nearly 20 years, Chris Uggen has studied crime and its effects on society as a professor at the University of Minnesota.

“I think it’s important to point out both the long-term trend and the shorter-term trend is very positive,” Uggen said. “I often tell my students the rate of criminal violence is lower today than at any point in my lifetime and I was born in 1964.”

The FBI says homicide rates fell 51 percent between 1991 and 2010. Right now, the United States is on track to record its lowest murder rate of the modern era. The numbers have also been falling around the world.

When you look back even further, Uggen said you can see how far we’ve come. Torture tactics like public burnings and disembowelment were common place 500 years ago.

“All sorts of horrible practices that we can read about in our history books but no longer take place,” Uggen said.

Uggen says we can credit becoming more educated as a human race for the change, along with police protection and a sophisticated legal system in some countries.

But in this country there is still a long way to go. The United States is still more violent than other European nations. In Norway every year, five people per million are killed. In the U.S., it’s 50 per million.

Uggen credits our constant stream of information for making things seem worse than they are and how we romanticize the past, when it actually had plenty of problems.

“There’s great hope and I hope people bear that in mind and remember that when we do confront these terrible tragedies,” Uggen said.

Recent history shows there are more mass shootings in the U.S. than in other countries. Some experts think that’s because we have easier access to guns, and killers here become infamous through the press.

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