It’s the guns!!

Over at Slate, Chris Kirk had a post erroneously headlined, “The U.S. Is Far More Violent Than Other Rich Countries.”  It then shows a graph of “assault death” rate compared to other OECD countries.  Of course, the US is a huge outlier.   Kirk asks (rhetorically, presumably) at the end of his post:

What, then, explains the U.S.’s violence? Is it that we are crazier than Japan? Is it that we just like killing each other more than Australians? Could it possibly be that we have more guns per person than any of these countries?

But, the thing is the US is not far more violent!  We’re simply far more lethal.   And that is easy.  Guns.

Of course, this reminded me of one of my own favorite posts from a few years ago, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. With guns.”  That post shows that the US is entirely ordinary in “violent crime” rate, but a huge outlier in the homicide rate.  What frustrates me though, it the data is from 2000 and I’ve never been able to find more up-to-date comparative violent crime statistics.  Then it hit me, the problem was likely searching for “violent crime” rate.  Indeed it was.

I found this nice Civitas (UK) report with 2011 data that has rates of assault, rape, burglary, etc.  And the point from these charts is really clear.  First homicide rate:


Mexico blowing up the scale, makes the US not look so bad, but our rate is 2-4x that of most other advanced democracies.  Take Mexico out of this graph, and the US is a clear outlier.

But here’s the thing, in other violent crimes, we’re nothing special.

assault  rape

We’re in fact utterly ordinary in assault (just below the mean, in fact!) and towards the higher end in rape, but not at all an outlier as we are in homicide.

So, to be clear, the United States is not a particularly violent society.  We are a particularly lethal society.  And there is one breathtakingly obvious explanation (and really no good alternatives) for why the US is a much more lethal society– the ready availability of guns.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to It’s the guns!!

  1. ohwilleke says:

    The case of Mexico illustrates the disconnect between merely enacting strong gun control laws (which Mexico has) and actually having them enforced (which if fails to do terribly).

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