While it would be a fascinating, albeit disconcerting, study to compare weapons of choice when committing murder throughout the nations of the world, the fact is, the data is either wholly unreliable for many countries, or just not available at all. Even murder statistics involving numbers committed and ratio per 100,000 people are difficult to come by in many countries that many not have the infrastructure to maintain records on crime, or have much broader, much more violent issues to wade through like civil war, foreign occupation or insurgencies.
With that said, countries in the West do have a far more involved system of compiling data as it relates to criminal activity - murder being one category. Beyond the ability to record and track the amount of murders each year, countries like the United States, Canada and Great Britain, to name a few, also record the method and weapon of choice for each homicide to the best of their ability.
While it may seem easy, or even cliché, to examine the most common forms of weapons used to commit murder in the United States, it allows us to do two things; to explore a) how a first world country, population of over 300 million aside, has a relatively high murder rate in comparison to its western counterparts, and b) given the nature of the weapons used, how much lower said murder rate could be with just a little of the fifth amendment.
As a side note: the author is in no way taking a side on the gun control debate, merely reporting facts. More guns equals more murders where guns are more readily available. That is all. Furthermore, statistics are taken from the FBI database of crimes committed in the U.S. with the most current and comprehensive report consisting of numbers from 2008-2012.
10 Explosives: 8 deaths in 2012
Yes, there were eight instances of murder being committed by some form of explosion in the U.S. in 2012, perhaps most famously in Indiana where a woman, her boyfriend and her boyfriend's brother conspired to blow up her house via a natural gas explosion in order to collect a large insurance settlement. Not only did they blow up their own home, they also blew up five others and damaged a further 90 homes in the neighbourhood, and, most tragically, killed their next door neighbours prompting all three to be charged not only with 33 counts of arson and conspiracy to commit arson, but also with felony murder.
9 Poison: 12 deaths in 2012
Long the murder method of choice in political thrillers or noir novels, twelve people were poisoned in the United States in 2012, perhaps none more famous than the case of Michael Cormier, a Los Angeles autopsy technician. In a strange way of life imitating art, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Cormier’s death created something of a political stir when it was found that he died from a very high dose of arsenic in his system. Cormier was involved in the autopsy of right wing media personality Andrew Breitbart, who had recently reported he had damaging evidence against President Obama. On the day the coroner’s office released its findings on Breitbart’s untimely death at 43 years old, Cormier died, leading partisan groups to claim he was killed to cover up what he may have known about Breitbart’s death. Though the conspiracy theories were quickly denied, many still question.
8 Drowning: 13 deaths in 2012
Arguably one of the most terrifying ways to die, and brutal ways to be murdered, the number of homicides due to drowning remained relatively low, and stable, between 2008-2012 in the United States. The reasons for this may be due to the difficult nature of actually overpowering a victim in order to drown them without incapacitating them first. In fact, sadly, many murder victims of drowning are those less physically able than their attacker, specifically children.
7 Narcotics: 35 deaths in 2012
A difficult method of murder to administer, and presumably an even more difficult crime to prove; nevertheless there were 35 homicides attributed to narcotics in 2012, a number that has hovered between 52 and 34 over the course of the FBI’s five-year study.
6 Fire: 85 deaths in 2012
Being burned alive sounds equally as horrific as drowning; knowing someone meant for you to burn makes it all the more terrifying. You have to be quite sadistic to employ fire as a murder weapon, and yet 85 people were murdered by fire in the U.S. in 2012. Admittedly, many of those murdered were victims of arson turned deadly for insurance claims or as a particularly gruesome way of killing two birds with one stone, by attempting to dispose of a victim that has been severely wounded, but is not quite dead.
5 Strangulation/Asphyxiation : 194 deaths in 2012
Now getting into the more traditional methods of murder, strangulation and asphyxiation collectively resulted in 194 murders in the U.S. in 2012, and just under 1,000 during the course of the five-year study. A large amount of these murders are domestic disputes that turn deadly, as was the case of Oscar Lozano-Garcia who strangled his girlfriend and then proceeded to wrap her body in plastic and hide it in her attic until police found her body in December of 2012. Authorities determined her cause of death was asphyxiation due to strangulation. Garcia fled to Mexico, but was later apprehended and extradited to the U.S. to face murder charges. In another domestic dispute in 2012 that led to death by strangulation, then 23-year-old Corey Anthony Lopez murdered his 21-year-old girlfriend, a crime for which he was found guilty of first-degree murder.
4 Blunt Objects: 518 deaths in 2012
A blunt object can be anything from a bat to a hammer to a club, and the FBI has seen all of them and more used as the primary murder weapon in 2012. An extremely aggressive form of violence, there is little room for interpretation when one assaults another so forcefully with a blunt object that it kills them. Crimes of passion and extreme rage often produce these types of murders due to the level of barbarity the perpetrators must generally descend to in order to fully invest in actually killing someone in such fashion.
3 Personal Weapons: 678 deaths in 2012
A personal weapon is anything that is a part of your body that is used as a weapon, so your hands, fists, feet etc. Pushing is also included in the FBI’s list of personal weapons. If you beat someone to death, stomp someone to death or push someone out of a window, all are considered death by personal weapon. There’s a dichotomy between homicides committed in this way; some are rage-filled examples of extreme violence, while others are accidental in the sense that a fight gets out of hand and someone falls the wrong way inadvertently dying. Ultimately in these cases there is a lot of legal work to eventually decide on the true nature and motive of the crime. The good news, however, is that homicide by personal weapon incidents steadily declined between 2008 and 2012.
2 Knives and Cutting Instruments: 1,589 deaths in 2012
Realistically, knives account for the majority of murders committed with sharp objects, but axes, screwdrivers, glass and others also account for some horrific crimes, including that of a woman in New Mexico who stabbed her son with a screwdriver while high on drugs. The type of weapon with the second highest body count on this list, it’s easy enough to see why. Convenience. Every kitchen, garage and tool shed has some sort of sharp object that can be used violently. In the U.S. knives and cutting instruments make up a significantly lower percentage of weapons used for murder, but in other Western countries, like Canada for example, death by knives or other cutting instruments are the most prominent weapons used to kill someone, making up over one-third of all murders.
1 Firearms: 8,855 deaths in 2012
Sadly, no surprise as to what the number one weapon of homicide is in the United States. Again, not to spark a gun control debate, guns do kill people far easier than knives and fists, but those guns still need someone to pull the trigger, and there are a myriad of socio-economic and political reasons that inform one's use of a firearm. The facts are still the facts however; of the 12,765 murders in the U.S. in 2012, two-thirds were committed with firearms; handguns alone committed 6,371, nearly half of all the murders committed. One problem with handguns when used to commit murder is the detachment the perpetrator has to their victim. It’s a lot easier to shoot someone than look them in the eyes while strangling them, and stabbing someone up close may make one realize the magnitude of their actions before it is too late, whereas pulling a trigger, sometimes from afar, often times may not. That detachment, coupled with access may very well be why firearms are, and have consistently remained, America’s favourite murder weapon.