via New York Times
By CHRISTOPHER MELEAPRIL 25, 2017
When the former N.F.L. player Joe McKnight was shot and killed last year in what the authorities described as a case of road rage, it was a high-profile example of what has been a marked increase in the use of guns in such confrontations, a new analysis shows.
The analysis was published by The Trace, a nonprofit news organization focused on gun violence. It found that cases of road rage involving a firearm — where someone brandished a gun or fired one at a driver or passenger — more than doubled to 620 in 2016, from 247 in 2014.
The Trace compiled its data from the Gun Violence Archive, which inventories and catalogs episodes of gun violence in the United States based on news and police reports and other sources.
There were at least 1,319 road rage episodes involving firearms during the three-year period examined, with at least 354 people wounded and 136 killed, The Trace reported.
The National Rifle Association, the leading defender of gun rights, did not respond to two emails and a phone message left since Thursday seeking comment about the specific report. The N.R.A.’s Institute for Legislative Action has generally insisted that most Americans support gun ownership for defensive purposes and that legally concealed weapons deter crime. Indeed, the group claims that the nation’s murder rate has dropped because of firearm ownership.
The Trace analysis concluded that these figures were conservative because law enforcement agencies do not inventory cases of road rage as a specific category. The site said most instances of road rage involving a firearm occurred in disputes between strangers.
That was the case with Mr. McKnight, who was shot multiple times in Terrytown, La., about five miles southeast of New Orleans, on Dec. 1. Sheriff Newell Normand of Jefferson Parish said the confrontation began after Mr. McKnight and another driver, Ronald Gasser, cut each other off and zipped in front of each other.
Mr. Gasser told investigators he became irate and had a “verbal altercation” with Mr. McKnight. When they stopped next to each other at a red light, Mr. McKnight approached Mr. Gasser, who pulled a handgun from between his seat and the console and shot him, Sheriff Normand said.
It was one of 35 cases of road rage involving firearms in Louisiana from 2014 to 2016, according to data The Trace analyzed.
There is no way to pinpoint what caused the increase in reported road confrontations involving firearms. The Trace reported that states with large numbers of concealed-carry permit holders and relaxed gun laws — such as Florida and Texas — had a higher number of cases.
Florida was No. 1, with 147; followed by Texas, 126; California, 82; Tennessee, 68; and Pennsylvania, 62. Louisiana was No. 10.
“More guns in more cars may simply equate to more road rage incidents in which a gun was brandished, or fired, research suggests,” The Trace reported.
And while the N.R.A. did not comment, a professor who has studied crime and gun control said he was skeptical of The Trace’s findings. Gary Kleck, a professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University in Tallahassee said the analysis would have been influenced by more news reports of cases of road rage involving firearms because when a topic or trend becomes a “media theme” it tends to lead to even more coverage.
“I’m skeptical any time I hear that any kind of crime or violence more than doubled in a three-year period,” he said. “The media tends to focus on a subject when it fits a pre-existing theme.”
Professor David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said he was surprised by the reported increase, attributing that to more and better reporting of such episodes.
Dr. Hemenway, who was an author of a 2002 paper that found Arizona drivers who had guns in their cars were more likely to act rudely and aggressively, said drivers develop a sense of territoriality.
Another research paper, “Is an Armed Society a Polite Society? Guns and Road Rage,” which Dr. Hemenway co-wrote in 2006, noted that cars offer an environment where people feel safe displaying hostility.
“A car gives the motorist power, protection, easy escape and anonymity,” it said.
The report analyzed data from more than 2,400 licensed drivers who were surveyed in 2004. It found that after controlling for variables, such as age, gender, geography and driving frequency, drivers with guns in their cars were more likely to make obscene gestures and aggressively follow another car.
“One would hope that those people with firearms in their vehicles would be among the most self-controlled and law-abiding members of society,” the paper said. “Unfortunately that does not appear to be the case. In Arizona, and now at the national level, the evidence indicates that those with guns in the vehicle are more likely to engage in ‘road rage.’”
Dr. Hemenway said displays of aggressive behavior while driving are not unusual. “I talk under my breath to other drivers,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Come on. Why don’t you turn, you idiot?’”
A 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said nearly 80 percent of drivers reported engaging in aggressive driving behavior at least once in the past year. The most common such behaviors included tailgating, yelling at another driver and horn-honking “to show annoyance or anger,” the report said.
Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov, chairman of the department of behavioral health at Winthrop-University Hospital, said in an email that episodes of road rage are a reflection of a person’s overall stress. Personality traits, such as impulsivity and a predisposition to aggression, also play roles.
“Not everyone who is stuck in gridlock behind a slow driver will resort to a violent expression of his/her frustration,” he wrote. “One thing is clear — besides removing guns from people who are not supposed to carry them, people need to learn coping strategies as well as stress reduction techniques.”