Why are there so many murders in the US?

From what I have read, one of the main justifications for both the Death Penalty and the freedom to carry guns is to reduce crime and, in particular, murder. However the US has a higher murder rate that most European countries where there is no Death Penalty and guns are controlled much more strictly.

Why is this?

What does this say about US and European cultures?

Where do you read this? The DP is to punish someone for atrocious crimes against society and to remove such dangerous humans from society to protect itself, because obviously such a depraved human is a danger to society even in prison. The right to bear arms is part of our right to defend ourselves from harm.

I don’t see any kind of majority saying these are meant to reduce crime.

“to remove such dangerous humans from society to protect itself” => implies reduce crime

“to defend ourselves from harm” =? implies reduce crime or at least murder.

To go back to my original question - Why is the murder rate so high in the US?

If you want to know what I have been reading, check
nra.org and prodeathpenalty.com


The philosophy of the death penalty is far more complicated that that. Some view it as retribution, others view it as setting an example, ie, to provide others with a disincentive to act similarly. Both positions have their strengths and weaknesses, and proceeding from one perspective or another creates very different death penalty-related laws. Thats why DP scenarios vary so wildly from state to state (a state where the intent is to set an example, and not simply to punish the guilty, is more likely to execute youths who were tried as adults or the mentally handicapped, because the issue is not the personal moral culpability of the accused, but to show the world that XXXX society won’t allow such behaviour).

I’m personally against the death penalty, since it’s better that we let killers live than even take the chance that we might execute someone who’s not guilty, IMO. But its still an interesting subject. I’d recommend a jurisprudence class to anyone whose really interested in these sorts of issues.


No, it doesn’t imply that at all. It’s just making sure that that executed person won’t be around to do any more wrong. Nothing about preventing new criminals.

No, it doesn’t imply that at all.

I never said it wasn’t more complicated. In the most basic sense, my description is right on. It’s punish those who committed a crime so serious that there is no other viable punishment suitable for that crime. People may feel that it reduces crime, others might not.

In a certain sense, every punishment is retribution. The DP is no different. But, like I said, it most certainly does punish someone for their crimes and most certainly makes sure they won’t commit crimes again.

The reason why is that many factors other than gun control and the death penalty affect the murder rate. The US has long had a higher murder rate than Europe.

In order to measure whether guns or the DP reduce or increase the murder rate, we should not only compare the US to Europe, but we should make many other comparisons as well. One can compare county by county in the US or state by state. Also, we can look at changes in the murder rate after some change in the gun law or the DP. A number of such studies have been done, but the results are controversial.

It says, merely, that they are quite different.

Just to let you know where I’m coming from, I am rather liberal, believe that the death penalty should be abolished(or possibly used in the most positive/irrefutable of cases. And not for retribution nor to set an example.

I have no doubt that 200 years from now, the debate about guns, the death penalty, crime, etc, will come to an equilibrium as far as many countries are concerned. Societies just become more complex.

ShetlandPony, good luck. Threads on this subject tend to turn into pro/anti-DP shouting matches. It is strange, isn’t it, that the country with perhaps the world’s most elaborate penal code and judicial system has one of the world’s highest murder rates. As you can see from the replies so far, there is a certain tendency here to think of this as just something that happens, and not to examine the root causes.

The vast majority of murders seem to be assaults that have gotten out of hand, and tend to be carried out by persons who have histories (often lengthy) of lesser acts of violence. Richards Rhodes’ interesting book about the studies of criminologist Lonnie Athens, Why They Kill, describes a four-step process of “violentization” which emphasises the passing on of violent tendencies from one generation to another, via the significant adults in a child’s life. It seems extremely difficult to break this cycle, particularly in poor or ill-educated families.

I’m sure this will get laughed out of this forum, but in addition to reading I’ve done on this subject I’ve found, er, the TV show COPS very educational as to the sources and mechanisms of violence in the US. The features that show up again and again are: 2) drunkenness or the use of drugs that enhance agressive tendencies, such as amphetamines and crack cocaine, 3) ready availability of guns or other fairly efficient weapons.

No one factor seems to explain the large number of murders, but I think it can be argued that murder requires considerably more effort when small, lightweight projectile weapons are hard to come by. I therefore suspect that if more powerful weapons were available in, say, the UK, far more of that country’s violent assaults would end up in fatalities.

As for the death penalty, IMO it is used in this country primarily as a means of retribution, not crime deterrence, and secondly, as a means of potentially reducing the monetary cost of long incarcerations. I don’t personally see any evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to violence.

How often are shootings used as plot elements in European movies/TV/theatre?

Violence in general?

don’t remember the statistics, but, by age 7, the average US kid has seen 1,000’s of people killed on TV - having one person kill the other is a quick way to resolve a dramatic conflict in time for the commercial break.

How many remember the gunfight scene which opened the Gunsmoke episodes?

I’m sure the higher level of violence in the US is the result of many factors rather than a single obvious cause. Let me throw out a few possibilities that come to mind:

  1. “Old West” culture that emphasizes toughness, individualism, and violence as a solution to problems.

  2. Violence is not as stigmatized as it should be (sex still seems to be the primary focus of religious and moral crusaders) and some children grow up feeling that acting out their violent emotions is acceptable, even laudable.

  3. Parents often allow their children to watch violent programming. It’s been proven substantially that kids who watch violent behavior on TV are more likely to be aggressive with other children later on. (Note: I don’t support any form of censorship but I do believe parents should take a more active interest in what their kids are watching.)

  4. As El_Kabong mentioned, violent parents tend to have violent kids. This cycle is difficult to break.

  5. Easy access to guns.

  6. Higher poverty rates in the US than in other developed nations. Poor people are much more likely to be involved in violent crimes than members of the middle or upper class.

  7. Presence of gangs in cities.

  8. Lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality that encourages us to sweep violent offenders under the rug rather than attempt to educate or rehabilitate them. Unfortunately many of them end up out of prison and back on the streets after a few years.

  9. Negative stigma of abortion and birth control leads to more unwanted pregnancies which leads to neglected children who are more likely to become violent criminals (okay, this one’s a big stretch).


Doesn’t the appeal process end up being more expensive than a life sentence? Who pays for the appeals?

Doesn’t the appeal process end up being more expensive than a life sentence? Who pays for the appeals?

AFAIK, you are correct. I wasw talking about a common misperception that executing people is somehow ‘cheaper’ than a life sentence.

As indicated by the responses above, there are many complicated factors; no one has a handle on all of them. So there is not definitive answer. Personally, I think that lack of gun control and adherence to the death penalty are contributing factor FOR the great number of murders in this country, rather than against. But those two issues’ proponents will tell you otherwise.

Ultimately, you’re asking, “How would U.S. society change, as regards the murder rate specifically, if the death penalty were abolished and handguns were banned?” As that’s a purely speculative situation, no one (despite their protestations to the contrary) knows the answer. My own “thought experiments” on the subject lead me to believe one thing; others believe differently.

You, ShetlandPony, will have to gather as much relevant information as you can and do your own “though experiments” to decide which causes you think have led to the present state.

We just got lots of folks that need killing, I guess.

I’d venture to say that what you refer to as the "‘Old West’ culture’ is nothing more than a continuation of what my history teachers called “pioneer spirit.” The popular media, especially TV and the movies, have spent generations blowing the whole thing completely out of proportion; the real “Old West” was nothing at all like what you’ve seen on TV. The approach to life to which you refer could fairly be said to be responsible for the founding of the United States and the settling of the land. Consider too that just about every Congressional Medal of Honor holder from WWII was rewarded for “toughness, individualism, and violence as a solution to problems.”

No substance here, only opinion. “…as it should be…,” “…seems to be…,” “…some children… .”

It is a fact that a growing number of studies are finding a link between the introduction of commercial television and a sharp rise in violent crime. Specific studies I have read about dealt with certain regions of Africa and with some remote native communities in Alaska. (Sorry, no handy cites.) IIRC, there is usually a “lag time,” about 15-20 years, between the general availability of commercial TV programming and the rise in violent crime.

True as far as it goes, but there’s more to it than that. Kids learn by experience and example, and any sociologist or psychologist will tell you that the most profound influence on any child after about age five is his/her peer group. Given that, and considering that little significant violence is done by the five-and-under crowd, we can easily conclude that public education is to blame for the increase in violent crime. While we’d like to think that that’s not the case, it makes at least as much sense as your assertion. Yes, if the family group exhibits violent behavior, yes, the kids are more likely, statistically, to do the same. But there are plentiful examples of the opposite taking place – kids who grow up in violent families and are sickened by what they see and turn away from violence.

Aw, c’mon, you’re falling prey to a myth here… What you call “easy access to guns” is a result of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, something that has been unchanged for over 200 years. If you accept that violent crime has increased sharply since, say, the sixties, then you have to face the fact that “easy access to guns” has been progressively curtailed over the same period of time. As recently as the 1930’s, practically anyone could buy and use firearms that were equal or superior to the standard issue military weapons of the day – including machine guns, etc. Until 1968, anyone could order any legal firearm through the mail. But since then, our government entities have enacted over 22,000 gun laws restricting our access to firearms.

In other words, since the late 1960’s, my ability to obtain a gun has been more limited with each passing year, but during the same period my chances of becoming a victim of violent crime have increased dramatically.

Your argument makes no sense.

“Poverty rates” are completely subjective and do not transfer from country to country. We live in a nation where no one has to be truly “poor.” There’s just too much available from government and private sources! In the U.S., the HUGE majority of those in “poverty” have constant heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer; have enough to eat year-round; have decent clothes; have refrigerators and cooking stoves; have laundry facilities or access to same; have telephone service; have paid (by me and you) health care; have hot and cold running water; have a car; have color TV’s and cable service; have access to public education; have money to spend. The absolute poorest of the “poor” in this country would be considered “wealthy” in dozens of other countries.

Hardly a new phenomenon. What year was “West Side Story” made? Weren’t Jesse and Frank James, along with their cohorts, referred to as the “James Gang” about 130 years ago? I seem to recall a “Barrow Gang” that was active in the early 1930’s…

Street gangs have been a constant in urban settings since the massive influx of immigrants to the U.S. that began (some say)with the Irish potato famine. There have been Irish gangs, Italian gangs, Jewish gangs, Latino gangs (subgroups including Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, etc.), Asian gangs (Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc.) and African-American gangs, as well as good ol’ white American gangs. The Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society could be described as “gangs,” and both have roots a century or two back.

Over the past forty or so years, the influence of gangs has increased, or so it is said. But how much of that increase has to do with the gangs themselves, and how much to do with things like increased media coverage? Romanticization of gangs and their struggles in the movies and on TV? A willingness of modern gangs to be more brutal in order to make their points?

Gang-related murders are still a drop in the bucket, nationally.

The SD’ers will be quick to nail you on this one. You contradict yourself! How can we “Lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” and have 'em “out of prison and back on the streets after a few years” at the same time?

Education and rehabilitation. Hmmmmm… Historically speaking, these are concepts that simply don’t work with the majority of felony criminals. It would be ever so cool if we could make it happen, but no one has figured out a way to make it happen consistently, or even regularly.

In your favor, I’ll say that the entire system that deals with violent criminals in the U.S. is a conundrum of contradictions. While most states, for example, have some sort of death penalty, being sentenced to death generally means that a prisoner will be treated to the hospitality of the state he’s in for at least 10-14 years, depending on the state and depending on how vigorously he pursues his appeals options. It is fact that a great many convicted murderers who go to prison with “life” sentences are released and free in less time.

Last time I looked, except in the Southern Freewill Baptist circles my parents inhabit, there is no “negative stigma” attached to either abortion or birth control. It is my opinion that the loss of that “negative stigma” – around 1970, I’d say – was a sad event of monumental impact on our society, and a great part of what tells the tale with regard to criminal violence.

When we start to say, “Abortion is OK,” and “Birth control is OK,” we take steps toward saying that practically anything is “OK.” Both have been practiced for centuries, but neither has been acceptable or technologically – and safely – acheivable on a massive scale until recently. It is fact that “unwanted pregnancies” can be terminated today almost painlessly.

Unwanted pregnancies, incidentally, do NOT necessarily lead to neglected children. My mother and my youngest sister were both the products of “unwanted” pregnancies, but both turned out just fine.

I just thought of another big reason: the drug trade. We’re in a situation right now that’s very similar to prohibition during the 1920s: a huge industry with virtually unlimited demand is being controlled by powerful criminal warlords who use violence and intimidation to undercut their competition. This is bound to have some effect on the level of violent crime.

Oops, I didn’t see your post TBone2. I’m not really going to debate with you since my list was more brainstorm and speculation than a cogent argument. You obviously put more thought into it than I did and you make some good points.

Just to clarify, I’m talking about our overeagerness to send people off to prison for minor offenses without considering other options, which I perhaps inappropriately labeled the “lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” mentality. I had in mind the busloads of non-violent offenders being carted off to jail due to mandatory minimum sentences and Draconian drug laws. If they aren’t violent before prison, I’m willing to bet some of them are after they come out.

Let’s face reality: The United States has large numbers of certain racial/ethnic groups that (generally and on average) commit murders at relatively higher rates. There’s plenty of room for debate over the cause of this phenomenon, but there can be no mistaking its existence and influence on murder rates. I am not a sociologist, but I would hazard to guess that the racial/ethnic makeup of a jurisdiction is a far greater predictor of murder rate than other factors, such as gun-control or death penalty laws.


I have a few thoughts on some of your responses.
There has been a dramatic drop in the number of murders over the last 5 years. What has been the cause of this ? Better policing, a better economy, tighter gun control?

Your comment that the “poorest of the poor” have cars, colour TVs, etc. etc. seems a little naive considering that the US government estimates the homeless population in the US at 600,000. My own belief is that many of the homeless are more likely to be victims than murderers.

The grounds that Jenner gives are, in my opinion vaild, but are not unique to the US. If we take the example of Glasgow in Scotland. It has many of the problems listed. Poverty, a culture of violence, drugs, gangs, organised crime, alcohol abuse. It is one of the most violent cities in Europe but it is still well below the murder rates for any city in the US of comparable size. In Glasgow however, the weapon of choice is the knife and it is considerably more difficult ( or more risky) to kill somebody with a knife. In the whole of Scotland in 2000 only 2 from 100 murders were committed with a firearm.

Is Gun Culture so embedded in the US society that it is unthinkable to try and remove them?