Political Animal


August 05, 2012 2:50 PM 7 Dead in Shooting at Sikh Temple in Wisconsin

By Kathleen Geier

This is absolutely horrifying. At least seven people are dead in a shooting at a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Those who were killed include the shooter. Apparently others were injured, but it’s not clear how many.

No details have yet been been released about the gunman, but it seems reasonable to suspect that the shooting was racially motivated. I’d say the odds are good that the shooter was some idiot who believed that Sikhs are Muslims (and that Muslims, of course, are all terrorists).

This is a tragic situation and my heart goes out to the victims and their families. I no way wish to minimize the devastating losses they are suffering. But I did recently come across some interesting information about trends in the culture of guns and violence in the U.S. which I want to share here.

Following the Aurora shootings, NYU political scientist Patrick Egan wrote an illuminating post about gun and violent crime statistics over at the political science blog, Monkey Cage. Egan summarizes two major trends. There is this one, which I knew about:

First, we are a less violent nation now than we’ve been in over forty years. In 2010, violent crime rates hit a low not seen since 1972; murder rates sunk to levels last experienced during the Kennedy Administration. Our perceptions of our own safety have shifted, as well. In the early 1980s, almost half of Americans told the General Social Survey (GSS) they were “afraid to walk alone at night” in their own neighborhoods; now only one-third feel this way.

The other major trend, which I confess I was not aware of, is this:

Second, for all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows. Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do. Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes.

Egan says that there is no easy explanation for either of these trends. Personally, I’m partial to the theory that declining rates of lead exposure are driving the decrease in violent crime. I’m not familiar with what the research has to say about declining gun ownership rates, but surely there’s some connection between that decline and the fact that violent crime rates are down and people feel more safe.

Media stories such as this one about today’ shooting that understandably, and rightfully, grab a lot of attention sometimes encourage us to lose the forest for the trees. While even one life lost to violent crime is completely unacceptable, it’s encouraging to know that overall, violent crime trends in this country are improving. It’s one small spot of bright news amidst the constant barrage of terrible news we all hear in this world, day in and day out.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • c u n d gulag on August 05, 2012 4:05 PM:

    And yet again, the answer to this senseless slaughter won't be better gun and ammunition control.


    The answer will be, more mask and turban contols!

    Or, if only those poor Sikh's were ALL better armed, this tragedy would never, ever, have happened.

    The NRA solution:
    The only way to stop these senseless killings, is to arm everyone from the time their little arms can bear arms.

    It's what the children of the Founding Fathers would have told us, if only we'd have paid as much attention to them, as their fathers.
    Mother's, of course, had NO SAY!

    Back then, women knew their place.

  • whenwillthisnightmareend on August 05, 2012 4:15 PM:

    When the smoke clears, we're going to find that once again, the shooter will be a self righteous Christian, doing God's work.

  • Keith M Ellis on August 05, 2012 4:33 PM:

    It might be bigotry, as Kathleen and the previous poster suspect. However, I think it's equally likely that it's the more typical gunman-with-a-personal-grudge situation. That it was at the temple is suggestive, but then there've been such shootings by members of Christian congregations at their churches, and similar, as well.

    I'm not saying that it's unlikely to be bigotry, but jumping to such conclusions looks pretty foolish when it's proven wrong. Every single mass shooting results in early speculation that centers upon validating the political/cultural prejudices of those speculating. I speculate, too, but keep mine to myself because history has taught me that my speculations about such things are often wrong.

  • POed Lib on August 05, 2012 4:45 PM:

    Nope. Not horrifying at all. Because horror is when bad unexpected things happen. I expect a massacre a day, so I am not horrified. Fucking mad at the NRA, yes, but horror is reserved for teenagers texting who kill children on bikes - oh, wait, that's predictable too.

  • Sister A on August 05, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Tragic. I feel the need to reach out in support to the Sikh community in my own town in Oregon, a couple of thousand miles away from this horrific shooting. Bad enough to hear of this as a non-Sikh person - can't imagine what it must be like to be a member of this community, yet so far from the event.

    As for making assumptions about affiliations and motivations of the shooter - everyone who's pointed out that it's too soon to know anything is of course correct, and we're wise to remember when speculations have been off in the past, there's been some clean up to do after the rumor fest.

    However - it does say something about the state of bigotry/fear/ignorance in our society that the direction of thought for so many of us is the same. Even if the shooter was a random nutcase who could have targeted a shopping mall or a park as easily as a temple, we're not wrong to guess that anti-Muslim hatred is a LIKELY reason for the shooting. If it walks like a duck... well, it's us usually a duck, and while we'd be wise to remember that these are speculations, not facts, and sometimes what we thought was a duck turns out to be some weird exotic duck-like bird, we aren't wrong to think that a likely motivation is bigotry.

    Sad. Very, very sad.

  • MikeN on August 05, 2012 5:19 PM:

    Before jumping to conclusions about motives, I'd like to point out that there has been a lot of violence within the Sikh community in Canada and Britain at least, with struggles over control of the temples between moderates and extremist supporters of Sikh separatist movements: See Khalistan, Flight 182, Indira Gandhi, International Sikh Youth federation etc.

    Or it could be just a local grudge- to say that "the odds are good" on a particular motive without any facts whatsoever is a bit rash, no?

  • Citizen Alan on August 05, 2012 5:44 PM:

    Or, if only those poor Sikh's were ALL better armed, this tragedy would never, ever, have happened.

    That's only if the shooting is at a school or a Christian church. I guarantee you that NO ONE on the right will suggest that a proper response to this tragedy is to encourage brown-skinned non-Christians to start stockpiling weapons. Self-defense was a big part of the reasoning in Heller, but Fat Tony made a big point of clarifying that convicted felons, including non-violent felons, still forfeit their second amendment rights even if they live in high crime areas. Thus, Heller affirms that white rednecks have the right to own as many guns as they want while also affirming that a black ex-con can be sent back to jail for 20 years if he's caught with the pistol he bought for protection because he's already been mugged four times.

  • Bob on August 05, 2012 5:51 PM:

    Holy crap, Ed Kilgore would NEVER jump to a conclusion like that, Kathleen. We don't know anything about the killer's motives. Why do you think it's "reasonable to suspect..." it was a right wing nutjob? I think, as members of the reality based community, we need to stop jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions. Wait until we get the info. It could well have been an inner-Sikh dispute, family dispute of someone inside the temple, etc. If/when it's proven it was some Dittohead idiot hellbent on killing Muslims but got confused, then by all means, let loose the dogs of war on them. But until then, we're no better than they are when you post crap like that.

  • John B. on August 05, 2012 5:57 PM:

    "Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do."

    While it may be true, I am deeply skeptical about drawing too many conclusions from the GSS statistics.

    First, after all the scarifying propaganda from the NRA, politicians in the pocket of the NRA, and gun-nuts everywhere over "Second Amendment rights," I suspect when asked if they own a gun a good many more citizens simply lie today than they would have in 1972 -- and all of those liars effectively will be gun owners.

    Second, there is a growing public sentiment against guns; no doubt about it. One can hope it continues to grow until gun ownership is perceived as socially unacceptable as is smoking. But as with smoking, so too with gun ownership the incentive to lie about one's own behavior also has increased.

    Third, unlike many other measurement categories in the GSS, which presume people pretty much are people everywhere, I suspect there is a decided demographic bias to gun ownership for which I do not believe the GSS adequately corrects. Regulation of gun ownership remains "a patchwork of state laws which make it easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns," as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence points out.

    In my experience traveling the nation and living for a time in many different regions, there are many more gun nuts per capita in the South, the rural Midwest, and hidden in nearly inaccessible areas of the Far West (like various southern Oregon haunts) than elsewhere in the country.

    All of the above aside, as the Brady Campaign points out, still "283 million guns in civilian hands" and "each year, about 4.5 million new firearms, including approximately 2 million handguns, are sold."

    The percentage of personal gun ownership may or may not have dropped over the past forty years; but in absolute numerical terms there are today several hundreds of thousands more guns in private hands than at any time in our history.

  • Bob R on August 05, 2012 6:06 PM:

    As others have noted, Kathleen, maybe you want to walk this one back.

    While you're not crazy to think it was someone mistakenly thinking he was shooting Muslims, there are plenty of other possibilities, as the others have noted.

    But more importantly, we just don't know, I can't see the value in talking about who or why until we do.

  • exlibra on August 05, 2012 6:09 PM:

    Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do. Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes. -- Patrick Egan

    1)There might be fewer people owning guns but it seems that the ones who do own a whole armory, not just a single one.
    2)There are "violent crimes" and "violent crimes". A gunman robs a shop and shoots the shop keeper and any witnesses who might be present is one kind of "violent crime" and those do seem to have gone down considerably since the 70ties. A nut with voices in his head comes into a school, a cinema, a political gathering, armed to the teeth (with a semi automatic or two) and *with no other goal but to kill as many people as he can*... that's a whole different kettle of fish. And that type of "violent crime" seems to be on the increase, not on its way down.

  • SadOldVet on August 05, 2012 6:15 PM:

    Fortunately, as the shooter was a white male, this was not a terrorist act.

  • TCinLA on August 05, 2012 6:41 PM:

    The fact the shooter was a white male takes this out of speculation about something within the Sikh community and puts it squarely in line with the fact that the first "arab terrorist" to be shot after 9/11 was a Sikh filling station owner in Phoenix.

    I have Sikh neighbors and have been told that one thing they are constantly worried about is some wingnut moron mistaking them for Muslims. In fact, nowadays there are many Sikh men who have abandoned the long hair and the turban specifically because of that.

  • Anonymous on August 05, 2012 6:45 PM:

    We know you're upset, but you kinda shot your mouth off in that 2nd paragraph.

  • Nancy Cadet on August 05, 2012 6:50 PM:

    Katherine, the blog is yours to write, and now the local police chief has issued a statement that this shooting is considered "domestic terrorism." yes, a white guy with a gun killed Dr Tiller in his church, while another gunned down a guard at the entrance to Washington DC's Holocaust museum, and another shot up a Unitarian church....

    On the NPR syndicated radio show "360" last week, two feeble cultural commentators, Adam Gopnik and host Kurt Andersen, opined regarding the Aurora shooting that 'Americans didn't commit political violence . '

    And, on culture, isn't one thread of Rushdie's novel "Satanic Verses" the fatal terrorist bombing of an Air Canada airliner, presumably due to an internecine feud between Sikh factions? So, no one commenting here is pretending that only white Americans are vicious mad killers....but facts and logic are pointing in the right (wing, mad) direction.

  • liam foote on August 05, 2012 7:04 PM:

    As several posters have indicated, the second paragraph is speculative nonsense. Please leave the "it seems reasonable to suspect" and "the odds are good" to the second string on Fox. It may well be a dispute over a woman. Until we know, why spin the wheels? There were similar knee jerk reactions to the Giffords tragedy.

    On the other hand, if it turns out that the shooter is indeed an ignoramous along the lines of the codger in Arizona who shot and killed Balbir Singh Sodhi in the traumatic days after 9/11, asserting that "I stand for America all the way!" well, then we must admit that our educational system and efforts toward religious tolerance have failed miserably.

  • BlueInTX on August 05, 2012 7:06 PM:

    "Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do."

    If you look at data on Americans with guns in their home broken down by race, white Americans self-report a gun in the home at significantly higher rates than non-white (vaguely labelled as "black/other" in the reports) Americans. I can't readily find stats from the 80s and 90s on gun ownership by race, which might a make a more definitive connection between the country's changing racial demographics and the decline in gun ownership. But the statistics are suggestive.

    Links: Percent of respondents reporting a firearm in their home by race.

  • gary fouse on August 05, 2012 7:40 PM:

    Talk about jumping to conclusions. We will know soon enough who the shooter was and what the motivation was.

  • bluestatedon on August 05, 2012 9:30 PM:

    The shooter is apparently a white male from Cudahy, and other reports indicate that he has no visible links to known hate groups. There's no doubt that the guy is a nut, but I believe it's highly unlikely that he would pick out a distinctively different venue like a Sikh temple if all he wanted to do is kill a bunch of people without regard to ethnic identity.

    I wonder how Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Rick Warren and Glenn Beck will Blame Obama for this one.

  • bluestatedon on August 05, 2012 9:33 PM:

    "....then we must admit that our educational system and efforts toward religious tolerance have failed miserably."

    I don't know how anybody could conclude otherwise, even before today's horrible events. A very large percentage of Americans believe if you don't subscribe to their brand of evangelical Christianism that you're damned for all eternity.

  • TruckerBobS on August 05, 2012 11:24 PM:

    Gee. I guess all the headlines I saw on Google when I searched "Gun Sales Spike" were all Newspapers and TV stations that were hallucinating. Some of those crazy newspapers reported that there was a 41% increase in sales and concealed carry permit applicatins! Some were even reports of gun sales increases and ccw permit applications in OTHER STATES!!! Well, I just can't believe anyone would want to be able to protect their family and loved ones from a crazy person like at Aurora or at that Sikh Temple. You'd be much better off just pleading with the shooter to spare you and your loved ones. I'm sure that would just melt his heart. How could anyone be THAT cruel.
    You know, since traffic accidents kill a lot more people than guns do, I think we ought to ban cars too! http://www.wwmt.com/shared/newsroom/top-stories/stories/wwmt_vid_3284.shtml?wap=0

  • Anonymous on August 05, 2012 11:34 PM:

    i enjoy shooting, i like to say first. we have a rifle and handgun at home.
    But i have them locked up with no bullets in them. we only buy bullets when we go shooting. i'm against killing animals for fun. so dont hate me.

    i think we need gun control. treat it like a dangerous truck or warehouse equipment with license, training, registered guns with registered bullets. ban on unlicensed selling and buying online or otherwise. attach every bullet to the buyer and manufacturer and seller. and ban all the military grade weapons like automatic.

    anywho, decline of crimes and gun ownership, i think, is that America became aging society with teenage pregnancy reduction. Also there is much less people in rural areas where they actually do need guns as well as people who enjoy hunting/shooting as a port.

    arab spring happened partially because they are young society with majority being 25 and younger. young society is prone to change but also violent than aging society.

    i've also heard on "freaknomics" that an economist claimed that legal safe abortion, combined with sex education, reduce numbers of unwanted/unplanned birth especially of teenagers lead to decline of crime

    increased incarceration/harsher prison mandates that Reagan started is often talked as if it was a fact but there are few violent crimes in other countries with much much less prison population but with same numbers of drugs abuses so that is not definitive.

  • Anonymous on August 05, 2012 11:41 PM:


    david brooks claimed that increased gun crimes (despite of overall decline of other crimes) are due to increase of mentally unfits who are untreated due to lack of health care access and income. he said gun control would not change that.

    sounds good except for the facts many countries are also experiencing increase mentally unfit in other countries without increase in gun violence.

    what's the difference? US gun policy.

  • heckblazer on August 06, 2012 12:38 AM:

    The LA Times is now reporting that the FBI is now treating the shooting as a terrorist incident based on the shooter's tattoos and "certain biographical details."

  • Rick B on August 06, 2012 2:24 AM:

    @c u n d gulag 4:05 PM

    The Sikh Ashram in Houston where I once took yoga lessons earned their money as security guards. Sikhs also have a long military history. I don't know what profession the Wisconsin Sikhs practiced, but they have not had any real problem controlling weapons in my personal experience. You're right. The solution will not be better gun control.

    It's my own bet that the decline in gun ownership is associated with the decline in rural agricultural culture in America (which panics the conservatives) along with a decline in the prevalence of the Southern warrior culture as the South modernizes. Since WW II the population increase in America has all gone to major cities (as it has in the rest of the world) and modern industrial-based cities simply don't have much use for guns. The other trend that will be associated is the trend for few people to hunt for sport.

  • Anonymous on August 06, 2012 2:36 AM:

    “Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes.”

    From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s the homicide rate doubled.


    Since the mid-1970's the homicide rate has come back down to about where they were in the mid-1960s. But that only happened after the incarceration rate increased 500%.

    Since so many violent criminals are more likely to own guns, the enormous increase in the incarceration rate would help explain both the reduction in gun ownership and the reduction violent crime.



  • pj in jesusland on August 06, 2012 6:14 AM:

    Where was Homeland Security? Fort Hood, Aurora, Milwaukee -- when it comes to domestic terror the NRA is more effective than the government.

  • Stevio on August 06, 2012 8:57 AM:

    "Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do."

    Yup. However, the 1/3 are armed to the friggin teeth. Lock and load you 1/3's. You 2/3's? Tough luck. You can bet your arse that the NRA will remain silent on this one. Oh to be a fly on the wall back at Headquarters at the NRA...

    Sweet baby Jesus...

  • SYSPROG on August 06, 2012 9:24 AM:

    'Where was Homeland Security? Fort Hood, Aurora, Milwaukee -- when it comes to domestic terror the NRA is more effective than the government.' REALLY? You actually think 'Homeland Security' can stop one crazed gunman? Really? Whewwwwwwwwwwwww.

  • David Martin on August 06, 2012 10:38 AM:

    Lets not forget the routine stuff. Daily television news in Florida is a recitation of shooting horrors, often with multiple casualties, and usually (but not always) in poor neighborhoods. Perhaps encouragingly, there seems to be some increase in survivors and neighbors providing information to police.

  • beejeez on August 06, 2012 10:48 AM:

    Excuse me, to the people above who were saying it's irresponsible to speculate on the shooter's background and motivation before the facts are in:

    On the contrary, I think that without knowing a thing except that a mass shooting of some type took place somewhere, we could be pretty damn sure that the shooter was not a liberal.

  • Texas Aggie on August 07, 2012 12:57 AM:

    The people claiming that there is something wrong with postulating that a white man with right wing tatoos was committing a hate crime really don't think too much. As we see, Page was a member of several neoNazi groups and had a record with the SPLC. I hope that the people who are trying to deny the undeniable will not now say that since he is dead, we'll never know why he did it.

    Really, people, as Thoreau once said, "Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk."