12 January 2011

Macabre facts: Arizona v. Scotland

As regular readers will know, I have (I suppose) a macabre side which takes a sad interest in human beastliness, tragedy and the cold reduction of life's sufferings to largely inscrutable statistics. I also have a friend who lives and conducts his research in Arizona - in Tuscon in fact - and I dimly recalled pub discussions in Edinburgh a few years ago, in the Bow Bar to be precise, during which he afforded an insight or two into the general character of that arid State. The respective populations of Scotland and Arizona were roughly equated. In point of fact, for a scientist he was decidedly sloppy with the odd one and a half million souls or so. According to United States Census Bureau estimates, the State's population numbered around 6,595,778 in 2009. Scottish demographic statisticians put our own population at 5,194,000 in their end of June 2009 estimates, some 1,401,778 fewer than the Grand Canyon State. Last week's horrid news that six people, including American Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, had been shot by a gun-wielding homicidalist made me wonder -  in terms of murder statistics, just how far do Scotland and Arizona diverge? The question seemed to promise some gloomy interest. Its only sensible to introduce a couple of caveats. Accurate comparisons of different jurisdictions can be problematic. Definitions differ, as can forms of data collection. I've no intention of attempting any detailed comparisons to put a squirm of glee in the belly of a statistician. Being humbly inquisitive, I'm primarily interested in the total data recorded in the respective jurisdictions. The differences are striking.

In the middle of December last year, I detailed some facts and figures from published Scottish  homicide statistics for 2009, including potentially surprising statistics about the gender of victims, the fatal sites where the unfortunates perished and the murderous objects which all too often, all too many drink-addled Scots employed to destroy each other. I sought out the pertinent Arizonian statistics, to make a quick comparison. My researches brought me to the Arizona Department of Public Safety website which confirmed that the State recorded some 324 homicides in 2009, down from 404 in 2008. This compares to 79 homicide victims in Scotland last year. Firearms were implicated in 60.6% of Arizonian homicides. On page thirty two, the Arizonian report indicates the distribution of deaths by the instrument that brought them about. In 2009, 165 homicides by handgun were recorded (50.5% of the total), 10 by rifle and a further 10 by shotgun (together 6.2% of the state total) while 13 more people were killed by firearms of an unclassified character. The  non-firearm weapon which caused the most deaths were "knifes or cutting instruments", which killed 60 people in the State of Arizona (18.3% of the total murdered in that year). This compares to only two Scottish deaths as a result of gunshot wounds in 2009 (amounting to 2.5% of the Scottish homicides that year).

The report also included a rather bizarre representation of "Arizona crime clock" on page twenty, with associated stopwatch device for the sluggish of imagination. The report reassuringly advises its readers that the device should be "read with care", under the grim contextualisation that Arizona experiences one murder every 27 hours and 2 minutes, a forcible rape every 5 hours and 31 minutes and one arson every 4 hours and 59 minutes.  And so on.  Reminded me of a comic tale I heard a few years back about the earnest Bono, who thought his Glaswegian audience might appreciate some serious-minded social commentary along with their singsong patter. Click, click went Bono's thumb, a grave staccato. Censoriously, he announced to the Glaswegian crowd "Every time I click my fingers, a baby in Africa dies..." The statutory wag in the audience, no doubt paid by Glasgow Cooncil to keep up the city's reputation for quick-minded drollery, immediately piped up - "Well stop clicking your fucking fingers then!" Gas. At. Peep.

I digress.  
In brief, in 2009: Arizona: 6,595,778 people, 198 gun deaths. Scotland: 5,194,00 people, 2 gun deaths.


  1. So I did a little comparative number crunching (have spreadsheet will tinker) and a couple of things struck me as interesting.

    Firstly, if we had the same murder rate as Arizona we would have had about 258 murders compared to the 79 we did have.

    Secondly, if Scotland had the same population as Arizona but the same murder rate we could have expected almost exactly 100 homicides in 2009 compared to 327.*

    Thirdly, physical assaults which make up 12.66% of Scottish homicides are no separately recorded by Arizona.

    Our per capita homicide rate is 0.00015% compared to Arizona’s 0.005%. You are some 3.33 times more likely to be the victim of a homicide in Arizona than you are in Scotland.

    At 44.3% of homicides, knives are Scotland’s murder weapon of choice, compared to 60.55% of Arizonian homicides being gunshot related. We appear to have a similar relationship to knives as Arizona has to guns. Perhaps this is something to ponder whilst we heckle our American cousins about gun control. On the other hand Arizona achieved (if that is an appropriate word) nearly as many knife related murders at 60 as Scotland managed in total, 79.

    Had our distribution of weapons been the same as Arizona’s we would have had 48 gunshot homicides and 14 knife wound homicides.

    If you swap out the 198 gunshot homicides and replace them with a figure more in line with Scotland’s gun shot rate (2.53% times 327) being 8 (i.e. an attempt to normalise for the prevalence of guns in Arizonan homes and culture), the total number of homicides in Arizona would fall to 137 or a rate of 0.0021% of population, still 1.4 times higher than Scotland’s rate.

    I’m not sure I’m qualified to draw any meaningful conclusions from this quick and dirty comparison except to say I’d rather a stab vest in Scotland than a bullet proof vest in Arizona.

    *Note on stats, my figures and percentages are not quite the same as the OP due to the treatment of some statistics in the original Arizonan report being inconsistent between headline figures and the detailed analysis.

  2. Can we really compare Arizona with Scotland Lallands? Firstly the climate is differs greatly and it's much drier (with the exception of the two rainy seasons) creating an outdoor lifestyle in many areas. Weather does have an impact upon humans and their behaviours.

    it's landlocked with a vast border. That in itself sees some of the incoming population have a desire to 'do anything' to live the American dream.

    As far as I'm aware the people are encouraged to arm themselves so comparing firearm incidents isn't a level playing field.

    I have to admit I've always been against a gun culture and your figures show why. Long may our policy continue.

  3. I think the reason that comparisons are often made between the UK (or its constituent parts) and the USA (or its constituent parts) is because of the cultural connections. The British - I mean that in the geographic sense not politically so I include the Irish - made America what it is, to quite a large extent.

    But it seems that their constitution has embedded certain historical notions - like the right to bear arns - into daily life whereas we have moved on. Attitudes on gun ownership which may have been as common in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries as they are in modern day America, now seem to us to be completely loopy. And the statistics highlighted here show that those attitudes are indeed completely loopy!

  4. >> We appear to have a similar relationship to knives as Arizona has to guns. Perhaps this is something to ponder whilst we heckle our American cousins about gun control.

    Quite. A gun used offensively is much more likely to kill than a knife, so I wonder what would happen if we factored in non-lethal knife assaults (up to and including attempted murder).

  5. Subrosa,

    I'm certainly not suggesting one should compare jurisdictions and sites without cautions of the sort you describe. I wasn't aiming to offer a comprehensive account of the factors which produce a particular number of homicides hither and yon. Having unearthed the figures, they struck me as interesting, while the comparison with our own statistics puts a bit of flesh on general apprehensions about the position in parts of America.

    As CSBungo pointed out on Twitter, we could undertake a similar comparison with London and elsewhere in England.

  6. Fair points both, Indy and Alec MacPh. Having been raised in rural Argyll, I suspect my general attitude to guns as such may differ somewhat from townies. That, however, is a matter for another time and occasion.

  7. Even in rural Argyll people generally own guns to shoot animals with, rather than people.

    The idea that you have the right to shoot down anybody who enters your property - which is what the American gun laws are based on surely - died out in the UK a while ago. I don't have any real knowledge about the issue but would suggest that the change in attitudes and the law around gun ownership probably coimcided with the introduction of a more systematic police force.

  8. Needless to say, Indy! However, I sometimes get the impression that city dwellers entertain a different basic attitude towards guns, seen primarily as inexplicable, fatal instruments...