A Comparative Analysis of Violent Crime in the United Kingdom

Whenever a tragic shooting takes place in America sufficient to enrapture the national media, the narrative du jour for many statist political opportunists is to draw conclusive comparisons between America’s gun violence and the violence associated with other so-called “first-world” nations.

 

I have previously discussed related geopolitical policy and outcome comparisons and analyses here, here, here, and here.

 

Notwithstanding the nature of confirmation bias that such inherent arbitrarily qualified comparisons cultivate, one can nonetheless glean some valuable lessons if we dig deeper into the data beyond just superficial demagoguery and broadly general characterizations.    

 

To that point and because of its history of firearms bans and outright confiscations (the most extreme forms of gun control) – particularly for handguns and semiautomatic long guns – the United Kingdom (UK) stands as a reasonable candidate for such a comparative analysis, especially with respect to determining the efficacy of policy proposals.

 

First, some history.  Following a particularly heinous mass murderer took the lives of 16 people in that country in 1987, the UK enacted the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 legislation which legalized a general ban and the subsequent confiscation of semiautomatic rifles.  Later, following a 1996 mass murder event targeting schoolchildren in Scotland, the nation banned and confiscated handguns as well pursuant to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997

 

Next, it is important to understand the relative population differences between the United States (US) and the UK.  Of course if one were to look at raw crime numbers, the US’ far exceed The UK’s.  But, that fact is an utterly meaningless observation because the population sizes themselves are certainly not similar.  Current estimates (as of this writing) put the US population at approximately 323 million people (the third-largest nation on Earth), whereas recent calculations place The UK’s at closer to 65 million.  Obviously, such a large difference in population naturally corresponds to large swings in virtually any raw figures associated with the respective countries.  Thus, statistical crime rates (i.e., incidences per 100,000 people) are far more meaningful from a parity comparison standpoint.

 

Also, this analysis will take into account overall violent crime and general homicides.  Specifically focusing on firearms-related crime or death is only meaningful if one is concerned solely with reducing/eliminating that specific form of violence, rather than with addressing all forms of violence and killing.   I would suggest that anyone who is obsessed with firearms crime only has a particular political axe to grind rather than a genuine concern for public safety and individuals’ wellbeing. 

 

So, how does The UK’s homicide rate ultimately compare to the United States’ (US), the latter which nation has far and away the highest per capita gun ownership in the known world and the former legislatively bans most gun ownership (firearms/100 people: US (88.8); England/wales (6.2); Scotland (5.5); Northern Ireland (21.9))?  In 2011, the US’ homicide rate was 4.7/100,000 people.  In that same year, the UK’s was just 1.0/100,000. 

 

But these numbers are not created equally, of course, presenting a couple of problems for assuming a true “apples-to-apples” comparison.  For example, the reported national rate in the US incorporates all initial homicide reports – including incidents that are eventually determined to be in legitimate self-defense (i.e., ultimately determined not to be murder).  Numbers for England and Wales, however, reflect only “final dispositions, so an unsolved murder, or a murder that is pleaded down to a lesser offense, is not counted as a homicide.”  Additionally, in Scotland, “a single case of homicide is counted for each act of murder or culpable homicide irrespective of the number of perpetrators or victims.”  

 

That said, overall violent crime rates are particularly noteworthy for comparison purposes. 

 

 

US

UK

Percent Difference

England/Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Overall

Assault

226.3

564.3

1188.3

59.7

602.3

+266.2%

Robbery

107.8

101.5

28.1

53.0

93.7

-86.9%

Burglary

602.5

778.2

418.0

498.7

740.0

+122.8%

Rape

24.9

36.4

31.7

27.2

 35.7

+143.4%

 (2013 data; figures per 100,000 people)

 

Overall, the UK’s violent crime rates considerably exceed those of the US, with the notable exception of robbery.  Indeed, the UK is largely considered the most violent country in the European Union by a fairly large margin.  Worse, the nature of some of Britain’s violent crime is far more confrontational.  Whereas in America burglaries of occupied homes are relatively rare, nearly 60% of burglaries in Britain involve home invasions.  Of these, more than half include the threat or actual use of force against the occupant by the perpetrator(s).

 

Because potential burglars cannot tell which homes possess guns, most burglars choose to avoid entry into any occupied home, for fear of getting shot.  The entry patter of American burglars contrasts sharply with that of burglars in other nations; in… Great Britain, burglars prefer to find the residents at home, since alarms will be turned off, and wallets and purses will be available for the taking.

 

No matter what the assertive counter-rhetoric claims, the UK is simply not a “nicer” place to live than the US – at least not in terms of violent crime.  While there is a case that subjects of the UK are less likely to die due to aggression from others, you are far more likely to be a victim of criminal violence in the UK than Americans are.  Nor is the UK safer in any way attributable to gun control policies that the Brits adopted.  Indeed, consideration should be given to whether or not these restrictive policies actually encourage violence to one degree or another.

 

The two years (1999-2000) following the initial handgun ban, handgun-related crime jumped by 40%.  The study buttressing these findings, conducted by the Centre for Defence Studies at Kings College, pointed out that “there was no link between high levels of gun crime and areas where there were still high levels of lawful gun possession” and “of the 20 police areas with the lowest number of legally held firearms, 10 had an above average level of gun crime.” 

 

By 2009, Britain’s handgun-related crime rate doubled its pre-1997 ban levels.  Clearly, the stated outcomes desired from the Firearms Act of 1997 have regressed in no uncertain terms, and now normal everyday Britons are left unable legally to advantageously defend themselves from all manner of violent crime. 

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