Homicide Rates Before Guns?

Someone stopped by searching for “homicide rates before guns.”

First, no one is quite sure when guns were invented. Apparently, sometime in the late first millennium (1 to 1000 CE) or early in the second. However, as a practical matter, guns appeared in Europe, and in history, in the early 1200’s.

Records of homicides before 1500 or so for most areas of Europe no longer exist, and estimates of homicide rates before the Renaissance are based on existing records of murder trials that resulted in convictions. Naturally enough, the arrest and convictions percentages seldom survive, so there is “a whole lot of guessing going on” when attempts are made to determine ancient homicide rates.

England is one of the few exceptions to the lack of records. Wide areas of England have excellent and very complete records going back at least to the Domesday Book, and in some cases earlier than the Book’s 1087 date. Those records confirm that the murder rate was very high, in most cases greater than 50 per 100,000 population, and in some cases higher than 200 per 100,000 population.

Before 1500, the following graphic is based on surviving records of murder trials, and on records of murder after 1500. Since the table covers a continent, with many countries and widely varying conditions and murder rates, the blue represents the minimum murder rate for a given year, the red the maximum murder rate for the year. Many of the peaks are associated with some identifiable event; the peak around 1060 marking famine and political unrest in Northern Europe at that time.

Guns became cheap enough for wealthy peasants to own in the late 1300’s, and cheap enough for most peasants to own by 1500. The decline in murder rates as guns became more common is a dramatic one:

European Murder Trials, per 100,000 population,  1000-1600  European Murders 1601 to 2010

European Murder Trials, per 100,000 population, 1000-1600
European Murders 1601 to 2010

Obviously, as guns became more common in Europe, murder and violent crime rates declined. By the 1840’s more than half of European families had at least one “fusil” at home, and murder hand declined from the hundreds per 100,000 population to a fraction of a murder per 100,000 population.

So we might as wall say “History proves more guns result in less crime.” Because it does.


AFTERWORD: For those who would like more background, my European source used this graph as one of the sources for the graphic above (click on it for a clearer view):

European Historic Homicide Rates

European Historic Homicide Rates

A hearty welcome to those who clicked over from Ace of Spades HQ, and thanks for the link. Poke around a bit, there is a great deal more data here you might find interesting.


About Stranger

Extranos Alley is a Collaborate effort to provide up to information on the relationship between restrictive gun laws and violent crime; as well as other related topics. While emphasis is on United States gun laws and crime, we also provide data on crime trends world wide.

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