I recently prepared for an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation concerning the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I thought it would be worth my while to compare murder rates between the two countries, but also between adjoining divisions of those two countries. There was a time when Canadian murder rates were low enough compared to the U.S. for American gun-control advocates to argue in favor of Canadian style gun control for our country. This is no longer the case.
It is certainly true that for Canada as a whole, murder rates are still considerably lower than for the United States as a whole. For 2011, Canada had 1.73 homicides per 100,000 people; the United States had 4.8 murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,000 people. What I find fascinating, however, is to look at murder rates for Canadian provinces and compare them to their immediate American state neighbors. When you do that, you discover some very curious differences that show gun availability must be either a very minor factor in determining murder rates, or if it is a major factor, it is overwhelmed by factors that are vastly more important.
For example, I live in Idaho. In 2011, our murder rate was 2.3 per 100,000 people. We have almost no gun-control laws here. You need a permit to carry concealed in cities, but nearly anyone who may legally own a firearm and is over 21 can get that permit. We are subject to the federal background check on firearms, but otherwise there are no restrictions. Do you want a machine gun? And yes, I mean a real machine gun, not a semiautomatic AR-15. There is the federal paperwork required, but the state imposes no licensing of its own. I have friends with completely legal full-automatic Thompson submachine guns.
Surely with such lax gun-control laws, our murder rate must be much higher than our Canadian counterparts’ rate. But this is not the case: I was surprised to find that not only Nunavut (21.01) and the Northwest Territories (6.87) in Canada had much higher murder rates than Idaho, but even Nova Scotia (2.33), Manitoba (4.24), Saskatchewan (3.59), and Alberta (2.88) had higher murder rates. (Okay, Nova Scotia is just a teensy-weensy bit higher than Idaho for 2011.)
What about Minnesota? It had 1.4 murders per 100,000 in 2011, lower than not only all those prairie provinces, but even lower than Canada as a whole. Montana had 2.8 murders per 100,000, still better than for Canadian provinces and one Canadian territory. When you get to North Dakota, another one of these American states with far less gun control than Canada, the murder rate is 3.5 per 100,000, still lower than Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. And let me emphasize that Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota, like Idaho, are all shall-issue concealed-weapon permit states: nearly any adult without a felony conviction or a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction can obtain a concealed weapon permit with little or no effort.
At this point, you’re going to point out that there are many American states that have very high murder rates, especially in the South, and on the coasts. This is certainly true, but irrelevant to the question of whether gun-control laws reduce murder rates. If gun availability or a lack of restrictive gun-control laws was sufficient to explain any substantial part of murder rates, then these low restriction states should have higher murder rates than their Canadian neighbors, and yet if anything, the situation is the reverse: the Canadian provinces often have higher murder rate than their low gun-control American counterparts.
There are very real social problems that contribute to differences in murder rates. If gun availability is one of those contributors, it must be a very unimportant part of that contribution. Perhaps those focused on gun control as a method of saving lives might be better off concentrating on the social problems that really matter.
Also read: State of the Second Amendment