The United States has a murder rate that stands out among rich-world countries. Over the past 16 years, it has averaged about 4.8 homicides per 100,000 people (according to UN statistics), which is about the same level as countries like Laos and Tajikstan and slightly less than Haiti and Cuba.
However, the U.S. is also a sprawling and diverse place where murders are not evenly distributed. At 10.8 homicides per 100,000 (state-level stats from the 2012 FBI Uniform Crime Report), Louisiana experiences a murder rate similar to Gambia and Suriname. Michigan’s 7 murders per 100,000 is slightly higher than the rate in East Timor and Argentina.
But we already know Louisiana and Michigan are violent states, and that’s because New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Detroit and Flint are violent cities. The murder rate including only the parts of each state that are in a Metropolitan Statistical Area (i.e. urban or suburban) are 11.9 and 8.2 for Louisiana and Michigan, respectively. Hunters and gun nuts may be in the country, but the dead bodies litter city streets.
Since the U.S. has a total rate of 4.8, there have to be other, safer areas that balance out high-crime Detroit and New Orleans. We know Utah has fewer murders than Michigan, but how do the less violent American states compare to the other countries the U.S. should be measuring itself against? Is even “safe America” still exceptionally violent?
While the states represented here are not exactly perfect demographic reflections of America (mainly, they are significantly whiter), they aren’t all obscure places where nobody lives. Massachusetts has a major metropolitan area and 6.6 million people. Minnesota has a major metropolitan area and 5.4 million people. Idaho has a 6.8 percent unemployment rate and (aside from Hailey) is not full of rich people.
What this all means is that there is reasons for optimism. Obviously, the entire U.S. is never going to enjoy the exceptionally low violent crime of self-selecting rich islands like Beverly Hills, but it can learn from Minnesota and Iowa. Both places have plenty of guns and a murder rate between Canada and Luxembourg. I think we can live with that.