Unexpectedly Intriguing!
24 March 2011

Now that we've established that the portion of the U.S. population most demographically similar to the population of Canada had a homicide rate of 2.87 per 100,000 people as compared to Canada's homicide rate of 1.94 per 100,000 people, we'll next look at how homicide victims in both countries were killed.

Our first chart shows what we found by tapping Canadian and U.S. statistics for the cause of death in homicides for the year 2006.

Homicides per 100,000 People by Method for Canada and Portions of U.S. Population Most Demographically Similar to Canadians, 2006

Right off the bat, we see major differences between the two countries in how the victims of homicides in both were killed. In the United States, the use of firearms accounts for just over half of all recorded homicides for the portion of the U.S. population most similar to the Canadian population, while in Canada, firearm-related homicides account for just shy of one-fourth of the total.

That observed outcome is likely due to Canada's much more restrictive gun laws, which greatly reduce the availability of handguns in that country. But while reducing the number of homicide deaths due to shootings in Canada, that same factor may very well account for the more brutal nature of murder in Canada as compared to the United States.

We observe that in the very much larger share of homicide deaths due to stabbing and to beatings in Canada as compared to the United States, which really is driven home when we look just at the non-firearm related homicide rates by method for 2006.

Non-Firearm Homicides per 100,000 by Method for Canada and Portions of U.S. Population Most Demographically Similar to Canadians, 2006

Once we omit firearm related deaths for both countries, we first see that the homicide rate per 100,000 people in both countries is nearly identical, so that confirms that the difference in firearm availability and use in both countries largely accounts for the difference in both countries' overall homicide rates.

The non-firearm homicide data however clearly confirms that murders in Canada are much more brutal than in the United States. Here, we find that the relative number of homicides involving stabbing as the cause of death in Canada is 167.4% greater than in the United States (0.67 homicides per 100,000 in Canada vs 0.40 homicides per 100,000 in the U.S.), while the number of homicides where the victims were beaten to death is 815.5% greater (0.38 homicides per 100,000 in Canada vs 0.05 homicides per 100,000 in the U.S.).

Knife - Source: Macleans

By contrast, we see that homicide deaths attributable to strangulation and burns or suffocation resulting from fire are approximately equal between both countries. That suggests that Canadian homicide offenders are specifically choosing to commit murder using the methods of stabbing and beating as substitutes for the firearms that are less available in Canada as compared to the U.S., much the same as individuals who successfully commit suicide in that nation do.

That in turn might also account for the overall difference in both countries observed homicide rate per 100,000 people. Because the homicide methods of stabbing and beating require substantially more physical energy and time on the part of the offender to inflict severe enough injuries to kill their victims as compared to the homicide method of shooting, it's likely that a large number of victims subjected to such an attack survive the murder attempt, given the greater difficulty the offender would have in killing them using these methods.

Since the victims subjected to these kinds of attacks weren't killed, they would therefore not add to Canada's homicide statistics. That possibility then would mean that the apparent savings of 1 homicide victim per 100,000 people that might be the apparent benefit of Canada's more restrictive gun laws as compared to the United States is overstated, as these statistics would not capture this particular dynamic.

Image Credit: Macleans.

Data Sources

Statistics Canada. CANSIM, Table 253-0002 and Homicide Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. 26 October 2010. Accessed 20 March 2011.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control. WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2007. Accessed 20 March 2011.

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