(Page 3 of 3)
The murder rates of the U.S. and U.K. are also affected by differences in the way each counts homicides. The FBI asks police to list every homicide as murder, even if the case isn't subsequently prosecuted or proceeds on a lesser charge, making the U.S. numbers as high as possible. By contrast, the English police "massage down" the homicide statistics, tracking each case through the courts and removing it if it is reduced to a lesser charge or determined to be an accident or self-defense, making the English numbers as low as possible.
The London-based Office of Health Economics, after a careful international study, found that while "one reason often given for the high numbers of murders and manslaughters in the United States is the easy availability of firearms...the strong correlation with racial and socio-economic variables suggests that the underlying determinants of the homicide rate are related to particular cultural factors."
Cultural differences and more-permissive legal standards notwithstanding, the English rate of violent crime has been soaring since 1991. Over the same period, America's has been falling dramatically. In 1999 The Boston Globe reported that the American murder rate, which had fluctuated by about 20 percent between 1974 and 1991, was "in startling free-fall." We have had nine consecutive years of sharply declining violent crime. As a result the English and American murder rates are converging. In 1981 the American rate was 8.7 times the English rate, in 1995 it was 5.7 times the English rate, and the latest study puts it at 3.5 times.
Preliminary figures for the U.S. this year show an increase, although of less than 1 percent, in the overall number of violent crimes, with homicide increases in certain cities, which criminologists attribute to gang violence, the poor economy, and the release from prison of many offenders. Yet Americans still enjoy a substantially lower rate of violent crime than England, without the "restraint on personal liberty" English governments have seen as necessary. Rather than permit individuals more scope to defend themselves, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government plans to combat crime by extending those "restraints on personal liberty": removing the prohibition against double jeopardy so people can be tried twice for the same crime, making hearsay evidence admissible in court, and letting jurors know of a suspect's previous crimes.
This is a cautionary tale. America's founders, like their English forebears, regarded personal security as first of the three primary rights of mankind. That was the main reason for including a right for individuals to be armed in the U.S. Constitution. Not everyone needs to avail himself or herself of that right. It is a dangerous right. But leaving personal protection to the police is also dangerous.
The English government has effectively abolished the right of Englishmen, confirmed in their 1689 Bill of Rights, to "have arms for their defence," insisting upon a monopoly of force it can succeed in imposing only on law-abiding citizens. It has come perilously close to depriving its people of the ability to protect themselves at all, and the result is a more, not less, dangerous society. Despite the English tendency to decry America's "vigilante values," English policy makers would do well to consider a return to these crucial common law values, which stood them so well in the past.