Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Murder by numbers

New Yorkers just aren't killing each other the way they used to. In trying to understand why, I've run into the major puzzles of America and murder.

The national rate of murder in America has been rising while that of nearly all our friendly rivals in Europe has fallen dramatically (PDF) over the past several centuries. New York's current rate of 6 murders per 100,000 people per year is pretty much average for America as a whole, quite an accomplishment for a large city, but it's six times the norm in Europe.

Gun possession, measured as the number of households owning at least one gun, has actually decreased over the long term. Handgun ownership, though, has increased dramatically. Is that the explanation?

If so, it's only part of the explanation, since even neglecting the majority of 2009 New York murders that were indeed committed with a gun, New York's murder rate is still more than twice the European rate.

Maybe we're just meaner than the rest of the so-called civilized world.

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