After writing a piece about the idiocy of the US gun culture and the enormous number of mass murders by gun1, I wondered just how generally murderous the US was. As I suspected, it is a relatively nasty place.
The International Classification of Crime for Statistical Purposes (ICCS), developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), provides a framework for the definition and classification of unlawful killings. Homicide is defined as “unlawful death inflicted upon a person with the intent to cause death or serious injury”. This statistical definition contains three elements that characterise the killing of a person as “intentional homicide”:
- The killing of a person by another person (objective element)
- The intent of the perpetrator to kill or seriously injure the victim (subjective element)
- The unlawfulness of the killing (legal element)2
The UNODC publishes a Global Study on Homicide, apparently every 5 years, with the last two coming out in 2014 and 2019. There are lots of interesting and appalling facts in these reports. For instance, in the 2019 report, of the total worldwide homicides, 81% are male and 19% female. Where the homicide is ‘intimate partner or family related’, 64% of the victims are female and 36% male. Where the homicide is by the ‘intimate partner’, 82% of the victims are female and 18% are male. Of all females murdered 34% are killed by intimate partners, 24% by other family members and 42% by perpetrators outside the family3.
The homicide rate is given as the number of intentional homicides per 100,000 population. Generally, the global rate is 6.1 homicides per 100,000 people per annum, but this varies significantly from region to region. In Asia, Europe and Oceania it is 3.0 or less, while in Africa it is 13.0, whereas in the Americas it is 17.2. In addition, males commit 90% of homicides worldwide2.
In Australia (as part of Oceania) the homicide rate is 0.82 per 100,000 per annum4. In addition, the rate has been declining in Australia for decades. Back in 1992-1993, the homicide rate was 1.88 per 100,000 people4. In the United States (obviously part of the Americas), the homicide rate declined from about 9.71 in 1991 to about 4.4 in 2014. Since then it has increased, with the rate in 2020 reaching 6.525. While the current rate in the US is bad, the worst nation in the world for homicides is El Salvador which has a homicide rate is 52.02 deaths per 100,0003, eight times worse than the US. Coming a close second and third are Jamaica (43.85) and Lesotho (43.56)6 respectively.
So, the US is a more violent society than Australia, if you measure that by homicides; this presumably is exacerbated by the problem the US has with guns. Why this is so, people seem to only guess at, and usually attribute it to the gun culture. Whether this homicide rate is solely due to the prevalence of guns in the US is difficult to determine. However, I’ll try.
As I note above, the homicide rate in Australia is 0.82 per 100,000, but the proportion of people murdered by firearms is 0.13 per 100,000 population7. Therefore, the homicide rate by methods other than firearms is 0.69 per 100,000.
Again, as I note above, the homicide rate in the US is 6.52 per 100,000 population, but the proportion of people murdered by firearms runs to 73.6%8. Therefore 26.4% of homicides in the US are by weapons other than firearms (i.e. fists, feet, knives, blunt objects, explosives, fire, drugs etc.)8. This translates to a homicide rate of 1.72 deaths per 100,000 by methods other than firearms, 2.5 times the 0.69 rate in Australia. While it is impossible to tell if this means much given that it is impossible to determine if people would use another weapon if guns were not readily available. Whatever it is, I don’t want to go there.