Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is America Really More Violent Than Europe?

It is often said that United States is a more violent nation than most European countries. Look at the murder statistics, and the statement looks like it has weight. I used to think that comparing an individual European country to the entire US did a disservice to America. Some regions were obviously more violent than others in my mind, however, this data seems to suggest that while certain states have low murder rates, regions in general are pretty uniform across the board. Based on the murder rate alone, the US is indeed a more violent country than most Western European nations.

Looking at just the murder rate, the discussion would be relatively short. However, I became interested in other violent criminal statistics and what I found was interesting. For my data I went to the European Union data information portal for both the European Unions and America's violent crime rate so I hope that any European readers might not think this as a 'statistical' hit and run using questionable information. Now a few things.

First off, how crimes are recorded are different between each nation, so I will admit that this could potentially skew the comparisons between the US and Europe and between individual European nations to each other.

Second, when I created the violent crimes per 100,000 individuals I used the latest rounded census information I could find. This could potentially cause the data to be skewed because of varied population growth rates. However, outside of the US, population growth was relatively minimal. This does mean that violent crime rates will be understated for America coming up to the years approaching 2010; but realistically I don't think it affects the data that much.

Lastly, I would have liked to find a break down of different types of violent crime, however, the EU data portal does not break the data down this far.  It's disappointing since there could be an instance where a nation could have a higher violent crime rate but have its violent crime be a lesser type (I am thinking assaults attributed to bar fights versus rapes). Or even more pertinent, some nations would list threats as violent crime, while others would not. There is little I can do about this, other than go over each nation's definition, and in the future I may do that. But I am not going to do so today (and to be frank, I am not entirely sure that the different definition make a huge difference. But I could potentially be wrong).

Now a definition on what violent crime is in the US. In America, violent crime covers homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault.  In short, any experience where significant bodily trauma occurs outside of robbery. I highly doubt victims of gun/knife point robbery would see their experience as not being violent. Now for the charts.



As we can see, when comparing the US to the EU, the EU has a far higher instance of crime. But using this data alone would be disingenuous since the EU has two hundred million more people than the US; basically the equivalent of two extra Mexicos. Because of that we need to normalize the data. I did this by taking the data I used to make this chart and then normalizing them to come up with violent crime per one hundred thousands individuals.


Having normalized the data we still see that there is a significant difference between the European Union and the US. The EU has a violent crime rate nearly a third higher than the United States. At this point we can say, assuming my data is in the ball park, that while the US has a murder rate far higher than the EU it has lower instances of other violent crimes relative to the European nations. I will admit that I was surprised at this point, I had assumed that there would be lower instances of violent crime than the US, but the data points in the opposite direction. So I decided to take a look at some other European nations.

I decided to try to get two groups of bodies together. One was the Anglosphere, less the United States, which would be the United Kingdon, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The other was Scandinavia. I picked Scandinavia because it often fairs very well in terms of corruption, economy, democracy and stability.


Scandinavia is well known as a collection of nations that are very safe to live in. I was surprised to see that their combined instances of violent crime was more than double that of the US. And that the Anglosphere had a violence rate about a 1/5th of Scandinavia. I had thought that the general cultural make up of Anglo nations would be more predisposed towards violence. But the data suggest otherwise. It was very interesting and confusing. I decided that one of the Scandinavian nations must be skewing the numbers upwards and so I decided to take a took deeper look.



As we can see, there was a nation skewing the data and to my surprise it was Sweden. But then Save Capitalism might have something to say if his post earlier this week is indicates anything. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the data. Sweden is often held as an example of what the US should be by many academics of left leaning individuals.  It is progressive, economically healthy and tolerant. I, like many other Americans, simply assumed that Sweden would be a much less violent nation than the US.

Even more interesting is that the United Kingdom, known as the violence capital of Europe (at least Western Europe) is comparable to the other Scandinavian nations. The data I have seen so far suggests that the UK isn't as nearly as violent as portrayed, unless the Danes and Norwegians are far more violent than American media lets on, and this data warrants a deeper look at Europe as a whole because for some reason Europe has higher instances of violent crime than the US (once again assuming my data isn't horribly flawed).

So is America really as violent as we in West believe? The data would suggest otherwise, though the murder rate here is intolerably high relative to European nations and one could say that having higher violence but fewer murders is preferable. So the question is why? Left leaning bias is certainly one of the reasons in America, and our news media certainly doesn't help with that depiction.  As for the European view that we are more violent there is the additional factor of our 'American mystique'. The mystique being that Europe has never completely let go of their colonial and wild west notions of the US, where the land was violent and untamed, and law could barely be enforced within the towns much less the countryside.

One final point needs to be made. The argument over which nation is more violent is largely academic. The point is that in most parts of Western Europe and the US you do not have to fear harm coming to your person. There are parts of cities across both sides of the Atlantic that would be foolish to reside in for very long after dark, but the fact is that the violence levels in both continents are far lower than they are in other parts of the world (save parts of East Asia). Either way, whether the US is relatively more violent than the EU or vice versa, I wouldn't be in a rush to install iron grates in your windows in either parts of the world.


23 comments:

  1. Great write up.

    I'm a European and have been pondering this subject for a while now. I think that if you take away the crime generated by the drug trade in inner cities the US is pretty much on par with Europe concerning violence. Also the easy access to highly powered firearms is a reason more assaults result in death.

    Legalize drugs and enforce stricter gun control and you'll be fine.

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    1. Countries like switzerland have far more high powered rifles per capita than America yet negligible firearm violence. 2) The US has banned high powered firearms in the past and the effect was nill. I am firmly a believer that crime is largely a social issue. Legalizing drugs would certainly help, as well as doing a better job assimilating immigrants. And this is why I think Sweden has been trending higher than other scandinavian nations; I have read a lot of reports at the inability of the Sweds to assimilate their muslim immigrants.

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    2. Switzerland has banned private possession of ammunition, is that the case?

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    3. Switzlerands ammunition ban, as ammunition cannot be stored at home but it can be stored in a government facility, is relatively recent and crime was neglible before said ban. It should also be noted that many of switzerlands cantons were opposed to the bill. Also, knowing that laws are only as good as a nations ability to enforce them, and there is no gaurantee that they aren't keeping ammunition illicity. Moreover, back in 2011, the Swiss struck down a law requiring that all firearms on government compounds rather than their homes.

      I picked Switzerland to simply to illustrate that pointing to fire arms, and the proliferation of them, as the cause of violence is a mistake. I could just have easily picked Russia, which has stricter gun control laws than the US, yet has a murder rate double that of America.

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    4. The damning problem of national statistics (such as comparing gun control vs violent crimes between countries) is the tendency to not take into account the many confounding variables. Socio-economic, cultural and demographic differences have a huge effect on crime statistics. That's the problem with comparing Switzerland, a well developed, economically strong, well educated, well policed and geographically distant, to Russia, which like many of the post soviet nations, has some of the poorest standards in terms of economy, health, security and education in the EU. These factors often overshadow and obscure the actual effects of gun control on a nation's crime rate.

      That said, there is that interesting murder rate anomaly when comparing the US to the EU. Despite having a substantially lower violent crime rate, the US has an unusually high murder rate. What is causing that? Are EU criminals different from US criminals? Do European criminals have a "no murder" policy?

      Let's look at those EU countries with less gun control; Norway and Switzerland. Though there are far higher rates of gun ownership, not only are they in the hands of a comparatively better off population who are statistically less likely to commit crimes, the guns are subject to much more control than in the US. To get a gun in Norway, for instance, you must acquire a hunting or sporting license, which requires you to take courses and pass exams. Your license restricts you to specific types of firearms only, and many of the higher calibres are banned. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, you obtain a rifle only after going through basic military training and disciplining. Even before the ammunition storing regulations of 2011, government provided ammunition had to be kept in a sealed container. Meanwhile, only specific weapons can be bought without a permit, and a permit requires you to not only justify your reasons for owning a weapon, but also requires you to pass a competency and safety exam.

      So whilst some US pro gun folk point to these countries as examples of places where guns aren't increasing the murder rate, they are incorrectly trying to parallel America's comparatively lax gun regulations with countries that enforce a great deal of regulation around available firearms. In short, they are essentially singing the praises of better regulation.

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    5. You are right on your first assesment, the socioeconomic factors, and wrong on your second. Europe, like the US, had much less restrictive gun control regulations decades ago but murders by firearm were still very low. Moreover, there has actually been a study conducted and published by Harvard, looking at the US and European nations, that showed no correlation between gun control and violent crime.

      Here are some things to consider:

      1) One thing I notice many gun control advocates, especially those from Europe, fail to take into account is government instigated murder and wars. Factor those in and the violence rate between America is not even close. Ultimately there is a reason why Americans love their guns, and it isn't for sporting or hunting.

      2) Most European nations are far less multi-culturally diverse than the United States, however, European nations that have greater ethnic and cultural population differences have seen much more systemic violence. Does that play into this? If you look at the homocide rates in America, in areas were there is a relatively homogenous population, even with a proponderance of guns, murders are near nonexistant. In areas were it is culturally fracturious, and even with strict gun control laws, murders are astronomically high.

      Now the cultural point may be overstated, it simply could the difference between urban and rural. But I can attest, after much study into the matter, gun control has nothing to do with violence.

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    6. The statistics in this study don't point to the conclusion the the US is on par with Europe; it indicates that there is LESS violent crime in the US, with the exception of a higher homicide rate.

      Of course this all depends on how these things are reported--convictions or incidents reported to the police, or perhaps some incidents are not reported.

      As this indicates, conventional notions can be wrong. But I think east Asia, Japan China Singapore, is much safer than the US and Europe.

      It's ridiculous when you hear people claim Amsterdam is a safe city. The stories of people robbed at knife point are endless. People form these boilerplate notions, such as "Europe has less crime than America.", and it perpetuates itself through repetition.

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    7. No and Hell NO!

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    8. Cogitans Iuvenis, I'm a bit late on this, but I just wanted to point that there's a fundamental part missing in your reasoning: due to their respective historical backgrounds, the US have a self-defense-guns culture, wherea the European Union doesn't.

      That's the main reason deadly assaults are less frequent in the EU, as fights without guns are less a mortal threat.

      The problem is that when a culture of arming oneself for defense is installed, then it is to stay, and will be hard to evolve. I don't think Europeans to be better or more moral than Americans, just that they both are not accustomed to the same cultural habits.

      That's why banning guns in the US wouldn't make murders disappear overnight: the problem lies in the socio-cultural behaviours, which lies in the prevalence of guns, which lies in the socio-cultural behaviours. That's a vicious circle.
      But guns are definitely a deadly multiplier in assaults.

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    9. But if that were to hold true then why is that some of the most heavily armed states in America are also the states that have the lowest crime rates? It is a socio-cultural issue, however, guns don't impact that at all. Firearms are tools, nothing more, and nothing less.

      Here is the thing though, even if I were of the opinion that it was, I would still be for firearm ownership. The reason being that civilization, like a persons survival rate, trends to zero on a long enough time frame. Eventually there is a collapse event, be it small like with Hurricane Katrina, large like the civil wars in Syria or Ukraine or catastrophic like the collapse of Rome. Firearm ownership is the ultimate insurance plan.

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  2. Nicely done, especially the "Anglosphere' aspect. It appears there's a bimodal distribution; violent crime is more common in Europe, (except for the "Anglosphere") but violence tends to become more deadly MUCH more frequently in America because of our liberal gun laws.

    Do guns prevent crime or reduce the incidence? It appears there may be SOME effect, though the data is confusing since US violent crime rates are within the range of European crime rates.

    What's clearly outside is the rate of murder. The US wins that hands down

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    1. I would be very hesitatnt to attribute the deadliness of violence due to liberal gun laws, full disclosure I am someone that was once not very pro-2nd amendment and have become very pro-2nd amendment after much research, not only because of my ideological inclinations but also because it requires far too many assumptions.

      For example, we have to assume that gun wounds are more deadly than knife wounds (the weapon of choice for murders in many European nations). I've looked into it in the past and knives and what I have seen is that knife wounds are slightly less likey to be fatal, but even then that doesn't account for murder rate.

      Even then we have to ask, what percentage of murders that occur in America would otherwise have been simply assaults, but the presence of guns resulted in an escalation that resulted in death? Even then you also have to consider that the same sort of escalation could result with a knife.

      Crime prevention by firearms is similarly murkey. I have to admit, even though I am very pro-2nd amendment, I do not like it when individuals claim that increasing gun ownership will reduce crime because that statement also requires alot of assumptions. Everything I have read though does indicate that firearm ownership in the US has little bearing with violent crime.

      Ultimately crime, as I have said before, is a sociological phenomena, and the items the contribute to it are economic opportunity, moral state of society, egalatarianism, and immigration. While I will concede that there is an off chance that they are possibly related, I am extremely doubtful, given the fact that up until the late 80s and early 90s we saw a drastically increasing murder rate in concerte with ever increasing restrictions of firearms. When firearm laws were loosened we did not see an uptick in violence. I am of the opinion that ownership of firearms, by law abiding citizens, has no effect on crime rates.

      As for why the US has a higher murder rate, there are a lot of theories. Some say it is because of racial make up, others contend that was the crack epidemic of the 70s and 80s, some think it is because we are adjacent to a nation with a problem with violent cartels, still others contend it is simply a product of our cultural make up. I personally think that it is part our problem with gangs, we had over 2000 FBI confirmed gang related murders in 2010 alone, and drug prohibition. At some point I will look into it further.

      The US certainly has a problem with murder, and we need to solve it, and the only way to really solve it is to find and almeloriate the root cause. I do not think the preponderance of firearms are a root cause.

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    2. Have you read John Lott's, "More Guns, Less Crime"?

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  3. This is by far the most level headed and non-biased look at the facts I've seen.

    However, there is the problem of definitions, which sadly the author does not delve into. A very good starting point is the research I conducted into an individual set of crimes (robbery, burglary, knife crime, fatal shootings, homicide, theft of a vehicle, rape and aggravated assault) comparing the year 2011 between the US and the UK.

    http://dispellingthemythukvsusguns.wordpress.com

    Basically, you are more likely to be burgled, carjacked, suffer aggravated assault, raped, shot and killed in the US than in the UK. There is also a short paragraph explaining why EU crime statistics are generally so high, and that is because European countries generally include in their definitions of "crime" a lot of offenses not covered in the US.

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    1. I explain the problem with the definitions

      "First off, how crimes are recorded are different between each nation, so I will admit that this could potentially skew the comparisons between the US and Europe and between individual European nations to each other."

      Took a look at your blog post, very comprehensive.

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  4. America's death zones hits If this is the state of our nation during relative peacetime and perceived prosperity, imagine what it’ll look like in the midst of financial, economic or political turmoil. Americans living east of the Mississippi River will likely experience the brunt of it. But anyone residing in and around any major U.S. city will, likewise, have a tough road ahead of them. So for want to know more about America's death zones hits being with us....

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  5. europeans add far more into their violent crime stats than the us does. the skeptical libertarian had an article on this in january. skeptical libertarian had uk rate at almost 50% less violent crime then us when using identical criteria.

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    1. That's interesting considering that I have just read a blog post claiming the opposite.

      http://rboatright.blogspot.com/2013/03/comparing-england-or-uk-murder-rates.html

      The blog post I have put up isn't definitive, nor is skeptical libertarians, nor is mine. There is a lot of gamesmanship that goes on with these numbers.

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  6. Are you kidding me? The definition of a 'violent crime' is obviously important when comparing statistics! Without that, your entire post is moot.

    There are a lot of things you could exclude in this post, but the definition ... really?

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    1. You need to read more closely, as I have a definition.

      "Now a definition on what violent crime is in the US. In America, violent crime covers homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault. In short, any experience where significant bodily trauma occurs outside of robbery."

      The reason why I use violent crime is when I was reading various nations definitions I found th US' to be easier to understand. This is largely due to the fact that it is written in my native language and I am familiar with the US justice system. There were also concerns about accidently ommitting or double counting crimes, for example some nations appeared to keep homocides in a different category than violent crime.

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  7. Well i've had the pleasure of living in the USA for a couple years, I'm from Spain. I don't hold data in my hand, but I'll tell you in spanish cities you'll see 16 year old girls alone at night walking by the street and they feel pretty safe (not taking into account males). In the other hand, you don't get to see that in big cities in USA, I didn't feel safe, there were gunholes in my building at Dunwoody, Atlanta

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    1. The key word is Atlanta. You live in a city, that until recently, had been among the worst cities in America for violent crime. My city of Seattle has a violent crime rate half of that of Atlanta and a murder rate that is 1/5th. But even when compared to Big cities Atlanta doesn't fare well. New York has a murder rate a 1/3 of Atlanta. Even LA, which I personally would never want to reside, has a murder rate about half of Atlanta.

      There are cities in America that have violent crime that are equal to are less than many European countries but those cities are generally less than 250,000 and reside in rural conservative states.

      Long story short, there are plenty of cities where you can see 16 year old girls walking out late at night and feel safe, but it comes as no surprise that it wouldn't be that way in Atlanta.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.