Clinton hits back at gun culture: The murder rate is steady, but spectacular killings have taken crime to the top of the political agenda

IN Washington a one-year-old child was burnt to death when a man tried to kill her babysitter, who had seen him rob and shoot a cab driver, by lobbing a petrol bomb into the room where she was sitting. In New York Amy Federici, shot through the head on board the Long Island Rail Road last week, became the sixth person to die as the result of a shooting spree by a single gunman.

Spectacular murders have moved violent crime to the top of the political agenda. President Bill Clinton last week told a meeting of mayors and police chiefs that violence was 'tearing the heart out of our country'. A survey of 1,600 inner-city youths shows that one in five regularly carried a gun. One schoolboy, asked by researchers what calibre of weapon he carried, pulled his gun 'from his jacket to examine it before responding'.

It is not that the crime rate is increasing. The number of murders in the US is steady at 24,000. But this year has seen a spate of crimes of exceptional violence, such as the massacre on the Long Island Rail Road, affecting white neighbourhoods outside black ghettos. Americans in the most placid suburbs feel threatened.

With the passage of the Brady bill, the first measure of gun control to be passed by Congress since 1968, the Clinton administration believes the National Rifle Association is weakening. In the face of popular anger, Republican senators did not dare to maintain their filibuster of the bill. Janet Reno, the Attorney-General, says: 'It should be at least as hard to get a licence to get a gun as it is to drive.'

The concern is real, but President Clinton's enthusiasm for gun control is also fuelled by the knowledge that it is a good way for the Democrats to dish the Republicans by undermining their tough- on-crime image. He is also politically safe from criticism by black leaders such as Jesse Jackson because in recent weeks they, too, are saying that blacks are the main victims of violence. Of the 453 people murdered in Washington last year only 12 were white.

A young black male is seven times more likely to be murdered than his white equivalent. Under Republican administrations in the Eighties, when the prison population soared to 1.2 million, blacks saw White House promises to do something about crime as thinly coded attacks on the black community as a whole. A theme of Mr Jackson's recent speeches is that more blacks are now being murdered by other blacks than were ever killed by white lynch mobs.

Although the murder rate is not going up, the pattern of violence is changing, according to the crime figures for the first half of this year. The most dangerous cities, increasingly, are medium-sized ones with a population of less than one million, such as New Orleans, Washington, St Louis and Baltimore, and not the big cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Police say this is because large-scale drug operations are moving out of the big metropolitan areas into neighbouring towns and cities.

Dennis Martin, the president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, says: 'They're going where the money is: the places where they can get top dollar for their drugs, where the police are a little less sophisticated and the competition isn't as rough.' It was the development of crack cocaine in the mid-Eighties that fuelled the growth of heavily armed gangs. This in turn has produced a culture of violence in black neighbourhoods where guns are routinely used to settle disputes.

In Philadelphia last week, for instance, 16-year-old Kevin Graham was lying on the floor of a friend's house playing a video game when an argument started and another boy, aged 17, took out his pistol and shot Graham in the back of the head. Elsewhere in the city on the same day six other people were murdered, all but one shot with a handgun.

There are other signs that violence and crime are becoming a political priority. As pressure on politicians and police goes up the job security of police chiefs has dropped.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?