Thoughts on violence in the United States? How do you think the VDR could be lowered? Feel free to comment below.

Current VDR: 6.1 Life Expectancy: 78

Average VDR over nation’s history: 13.7

Average VDR over current life expectancy: 11.9

Lifetime Chance Of Dying By Someone Else’s Hands (2008 rate): 1/209

Lifetime Chance Of Dying By Someone Else’s Hands (Duration of Life Expectancy): 1/107

Average Military Death Rate over Nation’s History: 6.4

Average Homicide/Execution Rate over Nation’s History: 7.3

Link To Spreadsheets

Category Of VDR # of Years-% of Nation’s History-Year of Last Occurrence


DECIMATION2 (.85%) 1863



WATCH YOUR BACK13 (5.6%) 1918

HARSH LIVING3 (1.3%) 1814

SOMEWHAT STABLE13 (5.6%) 1969

SOME CONCERN81 (34.8%) 1995

LOW LIKELIHOOD115 (49.4%) 2008



Compare United States USA homicide and military deaths by year

The next graph is a view of the two major categories (military death rate and domestic manslaughter rate), but separated, and zoomed in a bit so that Civil War casualties don’t completely dominate the view.

USA Homicides 1776-2010

Next is the “Domestic Manslaughter Rate” by itself, comprised of homicides, manslaughters, executions, and lynchings. To be fair, any stats before the Civil War are extremely difficult to know with any accuracy. The large spike in the beginning of US history reflects what most historians agree was an era of semi-frequent mass executions (slave revolts, pirates, etc), while traditional homicides as we know them today were not as dominant.

Comparison by year of USA homicide rates

Notice the spike after the Civil War. This was thought to be the result of not only the masses of Civil War veterans marauding the landscape with nothing to do, but also the rash of white on black violence in the South that took place as white southerners sought to re-establish racial dominance in a post war United States. The homicide rate most likely was much higher, but without reliable data until the first half of the 20th century, we are forced to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Another increase took place during the period between the World Wars (1920-1937) this is most likely the result of a troika of reasons: Prohibition inspired organized crime turf wars, the ongoing grind of The Great Depression, and better homicide recording techniques.

From the mid 1960’s until the mid 1990’s a high homicide rate tug-of-war took place that is responsible for most of the modern perception of The United States as murder happy society. The popular opinion is that this was caused by a combination of 4 factors: 1) The ongoing recession, and accompanying unemployment levels of most of the period. The “idle hands are the devil’s playmate” theory. 2) The flood of males between the ages of 18-34 during this period (aka: the Baby Boomer Generation). It’s not that this generation was inherently violent, it’s simply that homicides on both the doing and receiving ends are traditionally dominated by this demographic… as they dominate statistically, so too does the homicide rate. 3) The solidifying of modern illegal drug markets. By this I’m referring to not only the increase in illegal drug use during this time, but high level of confusion as to who should be distributing them. Today, most narcotics are now routed through Mexico, and the major distibuters  (GD Nation, Mexican Mafia, etc) on the US side have fallen into a semi-stable routine. Miami in the early 1980’s is an example of what happens when you basically throw a bunch of raw meat into a room full of hungry dogs that don’t know each other. Drug Markets + Confusion= Homicides. 4) The relative acceptance of violence caused by the Vietnam War. Even more so, the Vietnam War famously contributed to an unprecedented lack of trust in the government, which tends to breed an atmosphere of needing to rely on street justice to solve disputes. This is a trend we can observe in a more extreme form in the many homicide problem nations of Central and South America.

Now, beginning around the mid 90’s, the homicide and manslaughter rates have fallen tremendously. Well met America! This author thinks the most plausible reasons for the decline are the following: 1) The aging of the American populace. Again, those damned youthful males and their  shooting each other! The % of 15-29 year olds in the United States went from 28.4% in 1980, to 20.8% in 2001. Put simply, there aren’t too many 80 year old ladies getting shot in drive-bys. 2) An increase in incarceration rates. Whatever your opinions about the massive upswing in Americans being put in prison (I personally think a great deal of incarcerations are counter-productive) it has had the intended effect of lowering the overall violent crime rates. Offenders, non-violent and violent alike, that may have slipped through the legal cracks in the 1970’s, have been dealt with harshly ever since the tougher sentencing laws of the 1980’s and 90’s. 3) The most controversial, and hence the least frequently discussed reason for the drop, is almost certainly the increase in abortions post Roe v Wade. Famously analyzed in the popular book Freakonomics (read it if you haven’t had the chance), the logic goes that the children born into unwanted situations are disproportionately prone to crime, and the reduction of those births by percentage, lowers the crime rate.  Obviously, the effects of that decision weren’t felt in the crime rate for almost 20 years, because it took awhile for the children of that new generation to mature into the high risk homicide rate demographic brackets. The reason I think this opinion is so controversial, is that it puts people who are of a conservative political leaning into a awkward catch-22 morally. Conservative identifiers tend to be “law and order” types, yet this goal is partially achieved via an abortion increase. Since most politically conservative people also identify themselves as pro-life, acceptance of this statistical correlation creates an unpleasant avenue of thought. I would also point out that children born from unwanted pregnancies are disproportionately likely to become dependent on social welfare. Since this is another issue that tends to be in the staple platform of those who identify themselves on the right side of the political spectrum, it only adds to the moral conflict.

2009 Murder Statistics – Winners And Losers

The FBI has published crime statistic tallies for 2009. This is in the form of their annual Uniform Crime Report (see link here if interested). I’d like to point out that this report has some major flaws. The primary flaw is that large swathes of towns – and even some large cities – do not bother reporting. It’s important then, to not become over-awed by the fact that these stats are put out by the FBI. Even they admit that the tallies are incomplete, and should not be used as a hard barometer for institutional research.


Hats of to Naperville, Illinois! At  144,731 people it was the largest US city not to record a homicide last year. Here are the best of the rest…

I’d also like to give a shout out to Washington DC. At 23.8/100,000 it is still far above the average US urban homicide rate. But, it has come down substantially in recent years and that should be recognized. It’s not a stretch to say that DC could be in the midst of a Renaissance of sorts – comparable to that which New York and Sau Paulo went through in recent memory.

Also worthy of note is the always mello city of Honolulu. For an American city of over 900,000 it is jaw dropping to see them come out with a murder rate of just 1.5/100,000. This is even with the influx of tourists who are constantly there (a situation that Las Vegas also deals with it). Tourists can have a negative impact on the total body count relative to population size, because their homicide activities are counted on top of the local residents.


Unfortunately, it’s just the usual cast of characters in the Worst Homicide Rate category.

2009 Top City Homicide Rates per/100,000 Population

New Orleans, LA- 51.5

St. Louis, MO- 40.3

Detroit, MI- 40.1

Baltimore, MD- 37.3

For a couple nasty cities in the 100,000 population range we have..

Gary, IN- 51.5

Richmond, CA- 46.0

Of these cities, my guess is that Baltimore would have the best chance working itself out of lists like this. They are blighted and jobless in much the same manner as their list-mates… but not to the same degree. They have worked it downward in recent years – possibly a response to the attention brought on by The Wire – but 37 is still way too high to countenance.

Region has a place in homicide trends in the US. Even going back 200 years, the south has always had higher murder rates than the north. Whether it’s a cultural anomaly, or the heat leading to more social confrontations (summer months have always had statistically higher homicide rates), the warmer states are consistently more violent. As can be seen in the map below, bodies start droppin’ the farther south you go in North America.

north american homicide data

In this arbitrary division of the United States, the north had 5,069 murders in 2008 (total population 126,135,696) for a homicide rate of 4.02 per 100,000. The south tallied 10,673 murders (total population 175,837,547) for a homicide rate of 6.07 per 100,000. You are over 50% more likely to be killed in the south than in the north… Yikes!

In the US (more so than in other countries), there is a great division in violence levels between cities. The usual suspects tend to finish near the top of “worst city” murder lists year after year. A striking example is the fact that even with the body count of September 11th terrorism deaths in 2001, New York was not the most dangerous major city in the country that year.

New York 2001 homicide rates

Just so I’m not accused of only focusing on the negative… here are the most peaceful eras in United States history, by 10 year spans.

Calmest times in the history of the US

Indeed, the Leave It To Beaver period of the 50’s and 60’s does appear to have been the calmest in US history. What makes that even more impressive, is that homicide and battle deaths were extremely well documented by then… not something I can say for the eras of the 19th century.

We are currently tied for 5th most peaceful era in this comparison. If the United States avoids an escalation of the conflicts in the Middle East, and manages to keep the homicide rate low… we could enter into a post 9/11 2002-2011 peaceful period, which would challenge for fourth most so in our nation’s history.

Ranking 3rd in this list, it might surprise some to see how relatively low key it was in America just before the Civil War. By that time state executions had fallen out of style, there were no major wars, and the homicide rate was reasonably low. Of course once the war began, it threw off the next 20 years.

If you want to extend the term “era” to include a full 40 years, then the post-Civil War time line of 1866-1905 was the most peaceful… clocking in an average of just 6.1 violent deaths per 100,000.

drunk driving deaths by year

In this historical chart, we see the rate of “drunk driving inflicted deaths” throughout the recent history of the US. These are not just traffic fatalities in which at least one driver was legally drunk (that would be a much higher number), these are deaths in which the other driver or pedestrian who was hit was not intoxicated. Basically, people who were minding their own business when a drunk driver came out of nowhere and killed them. I believe this “Inflicted Death” idea fits with the tenor of this site; after all… if you could choose to have someone carelessly kill you with a handgun or a car, your most likely answer would be “what’s the difference… I’m dead!” I have chosen to not include this rate in the final VDR of the United States, simply because I can not find remotely consistent data with any but a couple other countries, and I don’t want the US rate to be penalized due to accurate statistics reporting. Actual tallied statistics of this nature only go back a few years, so the vast majority are only estimates (see stat notes in separate tab). Notice that I don’t count the passengers of drunk drivers in this rate, I am making the judgment call that passengers know at least some of the risks associated with riding in a drunk driver’s car… and this style of death is more akin to an accidental death.

Historically, Americans have been about 5 times as likely to be killed in a standard homicidal way, rather than in this negligent manslaughter fashion. The high alcohol consumption in the 60’s and 70’s (the highest per capita in our nation’s history) not surprisingly coincides with the highest inflicted death rate in our history. Better safety measures, and a concerted effort to demonize drunk driving in the 1980’s finally brought the rate down. We have even seen an extra dip in these fatalities over the past 4 years. In fact, as far as I can tell, people are currently killing and being killed by intoxicated drivers at the lowest rate in our nation’s history since the proliferation of the motor vehicle.

Population growth USA historical

Above is the population incline of America. Probably the only year in US history there wasn’t an increase in population was 1918 (thanks to the outbreak of Spanish Flu). It could be argued that part of the reason the United State’s homicide rate has never fallen to levels as low as western European nations is that the population has constantly risen too quickly to allow the US to “catch it’s breathe” and have the luxury to deal with the issue.

Technically, England is The United State’s mother country. See various comparisons between the two on the UK page.