Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

A visiting American’s perspective on London’s riots: The right to compare arms

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Aug 15th 2011, 9:26 by G.I. | LONDON

TO AN American visiting London, one of the more striking aspects of last week’s riots was how few people died. Not including the police shooting death that touched off the original disturbance, five deaths have been attributed to the riots and looting. By contrast, 53 people died in the rioting that followed the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992.

At least part, if not most, of the difference is down to the fact that Americans are armed to the teeth: the criminals, the cops and the shopkeepers all have guns, whereas Britain has one of the lowest rates of gun ownership in the world. The result is a low homicide rate: just 2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2002, compared with 5.62 in America. Murders in Britain are much less likely to be committed with a gun. Its firearm murder rate, at 0.02 per 100,000, is a fraction of America’s, at 3.25. Three of the riots’ victims were run down by a car while guarding a petrol station and one died of injuries after being beaten. The fifth was a looter who is believed to have been shot by another looter.

       Source:  United Nations

 

Britons are not more law-abiding than Americans. Their rates of car theft, robbery and burglary are all higher, some substantially. But strict gun-control laws and borders that are more impervious to smuggling than, say, America’s border with Canada, mean that guns are less likely to be used in crimes. That may also cut down on firefights: British police generally do not carry guns, in part because they worry less about being shot at. (Mark Duggan, the man whose death set off the original riots, was shot by a member of a special police firearms unit. Mr Duggan is believed to have had a gun but not to have fired it.)

It’s possible, as Ben Jacobs of the Boston Globe speculates, that Britain’s low level of gun homicide and high level of property crime are connected: criminals may be more likely to steal, rob or loot if they don’t fear being shot by a vigilante shopkeeper. Still, the data do seem to suggest that if you’re going to be caught up in a riot, it is better to be in London than in Los Angeles.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Mr Duggan was carrying a gun; in fact one was found nearby, not on his person. This has been corrected.

The original post is linked here.

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Written by gregip

August 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Blog posts

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