European Murder Rates Compared to the United States: Demographics vs Guns

Dean Weingarten, Gun Watch, January 3, 2012

When the subject is gun control, those who demand more for the United States always point to Europe. Europe, they say, has more gun control than the United States, and lower murder rates. Europe, of course, is a diverse place. Some places have lots of guns and low murder rates. Some places have few guns and higher murder rates. The reason that many developed European countries have murder rates much lower than the United States is not guns or gun control. It is demographics.

In 2006 the Department of Justice issued a report on violent felons in large urban counties. It covered the period from 1990 to 2002, and included the 75 most populous counties in the United States. The study accounted for over half of all the murders in the United States in the covered period.

Revealed in the study was a simple breakdown of the demographics of the murderers that is not commonly available. Murderers were divided into three groups. Blacks were the most numerous at 46%. Hispanics were next at 27 percent. Non-Hispanic whites were last at 23 percent.

While the study does not account for all murders in the period studied, it accounts for more than half and almost certainly slightly understates the percentages of Black murderers, because the latest FBI statistics (for 2010) show that when all the murders in the U.S are taken into account, the percentage of Black murderers is over 53 percent.

No one would dispute that there are several distinct cultures among the American black population. No one would dispute that none of these cultures exist in Europe in any statistically significant numbers. Some of the Black American subcultures probably have very low murder rates. We cannot tell because we do not have the data to distinguish between them.

Similarly, there are a number of distinct Hispanic cultures in the United States. These are all derived from cultures in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. They are not Spanish or Portuguese. No one would argue that any statistical number of these populations exist in Europe. No doubt, some of these cultures also have very low murder rates, but without data, we cannot separate them out.

Where does that lead us? If we take the 23 percent figure for non-Hispanic whites to be representative for the entire population (remember, it is likely a good bit lower), then the number of murders committed by non-Hispanic and non-black people in the United States for 2010 would be 2989.

The population of non-Hispanic whites for 2010 was 196.8 million. Applying the 2989 murders to this population gives a murder rate of 1.52 per 100,000 population. We cannot get a more precise figure unless we have more demographic data than that given. Asian-Americans, for example, have historically had very low murder rates, but we do not have the data. The 1.52 per 100,000 murder rate is right in the middle of the murder rate of developed European countries. Add the Black and Hispanic numbers back into the mix and apply to the entire United States population, and the murder rate goes up to 4.2 per 100,000. Guns or gun control simply do not correlate to higher murder rates, particularly when you consider that non-Hispanic Whites own guns at much higher rates than do Blacks or Hispanics in the United States.

There are huge numbers of German-Americans, English-Americans, Greek-Americans, Italian-Americans, Scandinavian and Swiss-Americans in the United States. There are no statistically significant numbers of African-American or Hispanic-Americans in Europe.

As a check, you might consider a non-European example. Japan has extreme gun control and extremely low murder rates. The FBI used to track murders by Japanese-Americans before 1980, when access to firearms was relatively easy.

The murder rate of Japanese Americans was less than half that of Japanese in Japan.

Murder rates are driven by cultural background, not by the instrument used.

European murder and gun ownership rates: Link

Department of Justice Study with demographic data: Link

FBI homicide statistics, 2010: Link

Japanese and Japanese American murder rates: Link

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