FBI Homicide Statistics: What Are You Most Likely To Be Killed With?

It’s the start of a long weekend and the time for a diversion.

It’s the fourth of July weekend and our lesson is: if you older than 50, beware strangers bearing fireworks. Look out for irate neighbors holding cherry bombs, too. For it looks like, if you’ve begun the advance towards cogerhood, the chance you will be murdered by explosives rises dramatically. Read on to learn why.

The FBI publishes the homicide statistics for the US (these are from 2008, the latest numbers available). They track the sex, race, and age of the victims and how they were done in. What makes it fun is that they compile who was whacked with what at what age. This is how we come to the fireworks warning below.

But first sex. Shown is the proportion (percentage) of murder victims by age and sex.

Homicide by Sex by Age

Boy and girls, assuming there are roughly equal numbers of each in the population (in each age bracket), are sent into the great beyond at about the same rates until around 11 years of age, after which young men rapidly accelerate to about 90 percent of all homicides. This shocking inequality—where is the outcry?—continues until men reach their decrepitude, and the male-female murder returns to parity.

Of course, at advanced ages women outnumber men (many of whom have been prematurely shuffled off the stage, as the picture tells us), so the evident parity is likely false. Men are almost surely, in proportion to the men left alive, more likely to be killed with malice than females.

Now race. Shows in the percentage of murder victim by age and race.

Homicide by Race by Age

This graph is trickier to interpret because there are not equal numbers of whites and blacks (in each age bracket) in the population. Whites are around 60-ish percent, blacks 15-or-so percent. If the homicide rate between the two races were the same, then we’d expect that, for any age, about 60% of murder victims would be white, and about 15% would be black. This is roughly true for white 1- to 2-year olds, but not for black toddlers.

The discrepancy between the two races grows larger as the young men enter their chief testosterone-generating years. Black per-capita murder rates are much higher than are whites’, a sad fact by now well known to everybody. The good news is that by the time men have signed up for AARP, the black homicide rate is exactly what you would expect for the percent of blacks in the population. But then whites become more quarrelsome, with no topping out in site with age.

How were people killed?

Homicide by Method by Age

If you’re going to be killed, your assailant must pick a method. This much is obvious. It turns out that what you’re killed with depends on how old you are. It’s enough to make you weep to learn that the very youngest are killed by beatings; with fists. On the other hand, it’s almost cheering to learn that deaths-by-fist drop to near zero after the would-be victims are old enough to start fighting back. However, fists come back into play in old age.

Guns are killing off most of the murdered teenagers—no surprise there. This rate is as high it is undoubtedly because of the shocking lack of firearms safety courses in our high schools.

Probably the eternal romance of the blade—we all imagine ourselves swashbucklers—accounts for the ever-increasing use of knives as we age. But blunt objects (candlesticks, almost certainly) are a close second and always close at hand. What really fascinates is the high jump in strangulations for social-security-check recipients. Nursing homes are downright dangerous places!

Don’t read too much into the jump in poisonings for 8-10-year olds; this is likely an artifact caused by the low number of murderers reaching for the cyanide. The early bump in murder-by-fire appears real, though. And gruesome. It matches the peak in narcotics murders, which if combined with poisonings, makes that early trend of killing by chemical more likely an actual one.

Finally, we return to our warning: if you’re old, stay away from people bearing fireworks, which are, of course, explosives by another name. The chance, if you’re going to be killed, is small that your end will literally be met with a bang, but small is still non-zero. Especially on the fourth of July.

Travel safely, dear readers.


  1. Parabellum

    …undoubtedly because of the shocking lack of firearms safety courses in our high schools.


  2. DAV

    From genetics, which appears to give a 75% chance for a fetus to be male, one would think that males would outnumber females. Certainly seems true in singles bars. If in fact there are near equal proportions of men and women in the population, I wonder why.

    Death by explosives more likely as one gets older, eh? Now who wouldn’t really like to go out with a bang? Perhaps the old-age onset rise comes from shaky hands setting the igniter.

    Speaking of which, I once came across what I think was an FBI statistic that set the number of bombings per year in the US in the hundreds. I’ve been unable to locate any statistics about this since (I haven’t tried very hard, though). Given the death rate graph, maybe the rise is due to the higher level of experience by the bomber?

    Wouldn’t worry too much though, there are 20x as many deaths from fists in old age.

  3. Les Johnson

    William: It appears that the ratios of male/female and black/white murders are inversely proportional. And I mean EXACTLY inversely proportional.

    Any idea why?

  4. Briggs


    Well, they should be, shouldn’t they. It’s still the case that they only store the data as “M or F.” I only showed both pictures to highlight detail.

  5. Les Johnson


    I misunderstood the y-axis. I assumed (and we all know what that means), that the % was a % of the subgroup, not of all groups.

    I should have seen that together, they add up to 100% for male/female, and close to 100% for black/white.

    Happy 4th tomorrow. Stay away from fire works….

  6. Ray

    The disparity in male and female homicide rates is outrageous. The women are obviously being discriminated against so the government should establish quotas. Women are also grossly underrepresented in the mental and penal institutions. Government action is urgently needed to achieve equality. Something like title IX in education.

  7. So as I understand these graphs, tomorrow night it is my duty to set off a few bottle rockets and cherry bombs? OK, if the FBI says so I guess I will. Nice to have this handy excuse when the neighbors call the cops. Non-octogenarians eat your hearts out!

  8. Chuckles

    A small poll amongst my fellow coffin dodgers suggests that being shot by a fellow gangster for smoking his cigars, drinking his single malt and fooling around with his mistress is the most popular way to go.

  9. SM

    It probably shouldn’t have, but the following part made me laugh.

    “It’s enough to make you weep to learn that the very youngest are killed by beatings;
    with fists. On the other hand, it’s almost cheering to learn that deaths-by-fist drop to
    near zero after the would-be victims are old enough to start fighting back.”

  10. Kevin B

    So the missus in the Explorer with the eight iron is a relatively rare occurence then?

  11. The rock, specifically the sharpened glassy rock, is by far the oldest and most traditional weapon, dating back to proto-humans and favored for a million years by priests, cannibals, and other malcontents.

  12. Kevin

    Blunt object = lead pipe.

    Lead pipes have been trouble since Roman times.

  13. Kevin B. The 8 Iron is a weapon of choice only in Ponce De Leon-land.

  14. I like it! You could make a statistically accurate game of Clue. The 26 y.o. white male was killed with a knife in the…..

    Wait, you’ll need an addendum with the most common death locations.

    Meanwhile, I’ll avoid blunt objects and explosives in any location.

  15. Tyler

    Very informative and on the button, though I have one big issue. I seriously doubt the firearms deaths being so high among young adults has anything to do with the lack of “gun safety” as you put it, but more to do with how easy it is to pull a trigger and take a life. It’s not personal like stabbing or strangulation, it’s a single action made in a moments choice. So any inner city kid who wants to be a blood or a crip or whatever can tote a gun, and not because they don’t know “gun safety”, no it’s because they’ll be a real gangster if they shoot up lil’ dj for the 60 bucks of rock he owes. Yea sure the odd accident happens, hell I live in Ontario and a kid years ago shot his leg with a shotgun when he got a hold of it. But that’s not why the murder rates are the way they are there, it’s because these 16-20 year olds no full well they can take a life with one bullet, and it’s just a matter of time before some 15 year old kid who wants to play for the NBA will bleed out in a park basketball court from 3 bullet wounds from some thug who thinks a 60 dollar debt is worth taking someone’s life for. No amount of “gun safety” videos are gonna change that. Unfortunately if black lives matter had any grip on reality, that’s what they would be focusing on. But instead they target the cops who make a mistake after dealing with it for 10 years and seeing what they’re capable of. Anyway sorry for the rant, I bet you’d be surprised to hear I’m pro-gun, I wish I had more access in Canada. But it’s sad seeing so many kids of colour blow themselves away over nothing, white people too but we all know there’s a drastic imbalance on the scale. But it would be racist to say which way it tips apparently.

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