Gun Homicide Statistics

In response to the thread More gun control. (this time lets argue the effects), I wanted to dig up some statistics on gun homicides in America, since most arguments are pretty vacuous without some data to back them up. Well, I tried the NRA for an anti-gun control perspective and the Violence Policy Center for a pro gun control perspective. Both sites publish what they call “fact sheets” which contain concise statistical information on gun violence.

Needless to say, I found the numbers to be a bit contradictory, so I decided to go to the horse’s mouth, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and put together my own data. All of these numbers come from the year 1998 (they’re probably still slogging through the 1999 data). The data are so interesting that I figured I’d start a new topic in GD in the hopes that people would respond with their interpretations, thoughts, rants, etc. Personally, I lean toward the gun control side of the debate, although I am a gun owner myself and I am open to other sides of the issue.

Anyway, here’s what I found:

In 1998, there were 16,911 homicides. A total of 64.9% of all homicides were committed using firearms. Of the gun homicides, 80.3% were committed using handguns and 19.7% were committed using other guns (rifles, shotguns, machine guns, etc.). Of the 11,687 gun homicides of which the circumstances were known, 25.6% occurred as the result of felony (rape, robbery, burglary, theft, drug offenses), 47.9% occurred as the result of arguments (brawls, disagreements, domestic violence, influence of alcohol), 10.3% as a result of gang violence, and 14.7% resulting from other causes.

58.3% of all intimate homicides (murders committed by spouses, ex-spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends) were committed using a gun, with 75.5% of the victims female and 24.5% male. Intimate gun homicides made up 14.0% of all known gun homicides.

And finally, in 1997, out of 30,535 total suicides, 17,566 (57.5%) were committed using guns (source: Suicide Statistics).

  • JB

What conclusion do you draw from this, junebeetle? What’s your take on the statistics?

I can draw one…since 75% of us women out of the 14% for intimate homicides are getting popped…then maybe we should make this not only a gun control issue but a women’s issue.

Needs2know…if my SO owns a gun.

One thing that I find interesting is that only 10% of homicides are caused by gang violence. That’s a very small amount in contrast to some conservative spokespersons’ claims. David Horowitz for an example makes sweeping assertions that most firearm homicides are results of urban gang violence.

Does anyone have a number for accidental deaths that are a consequence of gunshot wounds? The numbers above seem to include only homicides, if I read the original post correctly.

I don’t want to hijack the thread but the above assumes that the men wouldn’t kill their significant other if they didn’t have a gun. This is a spousal/significant other abuse issue.

Actually…maybe the above isn’t a hijack afterall. I know there’s no definitive way to really know but how do you think the absence of guns would affect something like murdering your significant other?

I have a feeling that the guys who do this would probably kill anyway but perhaps a gun makes it ‘easy’. There is something removed or distant about pulling a trigger. Actually getting your hands on the other person to stab, choke or whatever may be a harder line to cross when it comes to taking a life.

Thanks for asking. I am a bit surprised that felony homicides only make up 25.6% of all gun homicides. The relatively low percentage of gang homicides is also surprising, considering the media attention that gangs have received in recent years. It appears that most gun murders are being committed by average Joes who get into fights rather than by hardened “criminals”. The number of intimate gun homicides is astounding! I didn’t realize that offing one’s spouse was so popular.

My conclusion? I’m not sure I have one. Like I mentioned before, I lean toward the gun control side of the debate but I’m not exactly a gun abolitionist either. I’m still in the process of forming my own opinion, so the debates on these boards have been extremely helpful. I’m more curious to see how the advocates of all sides of the gun control issue respond to the numbers.

  • JB

Just as a matter of interest, are there any gun abolitionists on this board? Does anyone seriously feel that as a practical matter we can and should ban all privately-owned guns? It seems to me that the notion that there are people lying in wait to effect the disarmament of law-abiding citizens is more a conservative shibboleth than anything else. sqweels and I tackled this on another thread, and I suspect that most gun control advocates recognize that abolition is not a viable goal, and that it may not even be a desirable one.

Yes, the numbers are only for homicides. I threw in the suicide stats as an afterthought to round out the picture. It’s easy to forget that the gun control issue also involves accidental shootings and suicides.

Here are the statistics for firearm deaths in 1996, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (this is the latest year I could find):

total firearm deaths (1996): 34,040
unintentional      1,134       3.3%
suicide           18,166      53.4%
homicide          14,037      41.2%
other                703       2.1%

Here’s a more detailed chart, for those interested: Firearm Deaths

You might notice that there were a lot more gun homicides in 1996 than in 1998 (14,037 as opposed to 10,976). An oft overlooked statistic is that gun homicides have been decreasing since a peak of 17,075 in 1993. These are absolute numbers, so the decrease is even more dramatic if one accounts for population growth.

Not to hijack my own thread, but any thoughts on why? Can the decrease be correlated with gun control (or proliferation of guns)? BTW, I find these numbers to be very surprising, especially considering the inordinate amount of media attention that the problem of violence has received in recent years.

  • JB


Are there stats for homocide committed by Illegally obtained firearms?

Recently, the gun-grabbers all seem to cite the Columbine incident. Considering the fact that the weapons were all illegally obtained(and I suspect they are as well in many handgun homocides), what relevance do the arguments made for making the procurement of a handgun stricter have?

I’ve discussed this subject time and again with friends and relatives Etc., and we always seem to come to this sticking point–

If a child illegally obtains a handgun, the what will the strengthening of gun laws achieve?

It has been shown that the decrease is directly related to how well the economy is doing. everyone got jobs, less reason to do crime. And the lack of stress/arguements over money causes a reduction in family homicides. There are more guns now than in 1996, so it is not gun control.

GAD: Like I said, several of the largest GunControl org, including HCI, have said their eventual goal is the banning of ALL private gun ownership.

You will note that murder by gun is a small problem, statisticly. (Many of the homicides are not “murder”*). More people kill themselves with guns than kill others, in fact, if you consider only murder, the # of suicides is almost double. Note that a gang member killing a member of his OWN gang is considered a “family” related homicide.

You will also see another “big lie” on TV “so many children are killed as a result of guns”. The # is roughly correct, but they count children as all under 18. So a 17 year old gangbanger killed in a gang fight is a “child victem of gun violence”. So would be a gangbanger shot by a police officer. Very few of what WE would consider “innocent children” are killed by guns, maybe 10% of the # they give.

  • A police officer shooting someone in the line of duty is a “homicide”, for eg.

GaWd said,

Good question. I will check on it as soon as I can. It seems that the Bureau of Justice Statistics web site is off line at the moment.

Danielinthewolvesden said,

I wouldn’t characterize all gun control advocates by the opinions of a few extreme political organizations. The banning of private gun ownership in America is a drastic and impractical solution — as well as an infringement on constitutional rights. Responsible government regulation, on the other hand, is not.

Danielinthewolvesden also said,

I’m not sure. Can anybody verify this? I’d assume that justifiable homicide is included under “other causes”, in which case it makes up a certain fraction of 14% of all gun homicides for which the circumstances are known. I will check on this.

  • JB

junebeetle: The problem with these statistics is that they lack sufficient detail to really draw any conclusions with respect to gun control.

If you are interested in some highly detailed statisics, I suggest reading “More Guns, Less Crime” by John Lott or various articles by Gary Kleck.

Don’t be thrown off by the title of Lott’s book. He started the research for the University of Chicago, and only choose the title after gathering the statistics and draw his conclusions. Lott is now very pro-gun, but before doing the research he was neutral on the issue.

Kleck on the other hand was admittedly pro-gun before starting his research for the University of Florida.

In both cases, the methodology used is very sound, and you can read about it Lott’s book, or Kleck articles. If nothing else you’ll find the raw statistics interesting.

Also, the Uniform Crime Report (the source of your stats) has come under criticism because of the methods used to gather it. I have an article about it at home, which I’ll try to remember to post tonight. Anyway, the FBI and many police depts now prefer the NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System) because it apparently gives more accurate numbers.

Could these numbers really be THAT far off the mark? And am I being silly by saying that the incidence of suicide by gun should come into play here? Our government has no qualms about protecting it’s citizens from themselves in any other instance. I’m not saying that these people wouldn’t have found another means to off themselves, but I’d venture a guess that the numbers would go down a bit. It is also a contradiction to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the amount of women being shot by their SO and then in the same paragraph say that it’s easier to shot someone than to strangle or stab them. Duh!

I know that a little over a year ago I may have been one of those statistics. I was going through a very bad time, and was contemplating suicide. I even did a couple of dry runs. I went to a gun shop and almost purchased a snub-nosed 38 revolver, but I was intimidated by the video cameras and the online registration process. (A deterrent in my case. Along with the price!) I just might have been able to successfully end my life if it had been as easy as pulling a trigger. I tried the hose in the tailpipe bit and it smelled terrible. I tried the utility knife in the bathtub thing but I’ve always had this fear of being stabbed or cut. (To many psycho slasher movies I guess.) Anyway, why shouldn’t we keep guns out of people’s hands if they are going to use them on themselves or others? We’ve practically decided to ban cigarettes because they are a health hazard, why not guns?


Glitch said,

I’m assuming that any methodology problems concerning the UCR result in relatively small errors. The data is good enough (I hope) to get a general picture of what’s happening. I believe the biggest complaint against the UCR is lack of detailed information about individual crimes, rather than inaccuracy about the numbers themselves. Nonetheless, if you have more information on this, I’d be interested to see it. I tried without luck to find data based on the NIBRS. Perhaps somebody could direct me to a good source.

Needs2know said,

Yes, I’ve considered suicide on a few occasions during my life, although never as seriously as you. One major obstacle was the lack of a quick and easy way to pull it off. I’m not saying that I would have killed myself given access to a handgun, but guns do make the act of taking one’s own life very quick and convenient (which explains why guns are the most popular way of committing suicide).

  • JB

To answer GaWd, I could not find any data about the guns used in homicides. The closest I could find was a 1991 survey of prison inmates who owned a handgun. 9% had acquired the gun by theft, 28% had purchased the gun through an illegal market, and 63% had purchased the gun legally. Of course, the sample size is relatively small, and many of the inmates did not use said gun to commit murder. Common sense tells me that if guns are easy enough to buy at the local pawn shop, there’s no compelling reason to steal a weapon or buy it on the black market.

Danielinthewolvesden, justifiable homicides are not classified under homicides in the UCR, so they are not part of this data.

  • JB

This is exactly the point. Do I know what is better for you than you do? Does a Washington beureaucrat?

In my mind there are two ways to handle governement. The first is to assume that people have personal responsibility and can generally decide what is best for themselves. The other is to assume that enough people are morons that “smart” (read politicians) people should decide what is best for them.

The second amendment was put there to protect against the latter. What if the government decides to do something about the biggest killer in the US, heart disease, by outlawing fatty food and mandating excercise. You don’t show up to the ogovernment gym in the morning, you go to a work camp for a month.

Or what if they decided that we weren’t making good decisions with our money and created a 100% tax? Not to be a BIg Brother conspiracy nut, but I don’t want the government to have any more power than it has.

If someone wants to off him or herself, let them. It is their decision and affects only them. (BTW I too came close to offing myself but couldn’t pull the trigger.)
Stats to follow…

JUNE: When I was on the Grand Jury, the Coroner came out & explained Inquests to us. All deaths by violence were split into 3 categories :Homicide, Suicide, and accidental. He explained that shootings by Police Officers, no matter how justified, where classed by his office as a “Homicide” ( death at the hands of another). Now, maybe they have some ways of taking justifieable homicide out of the #s. but I did not see it listed elsewhwere. Also, on the “unsolved crimes” how would you know if it was justifieable or not?
Also, re Gun Control groups and gun Banning: GAD asked if ANYONE out there is in favor of banning all guns, and so the answer is YES- One of the largest guncontrol orgs is.

NEEDSTOKNOW: Because guns are not a “health hazard”- less than 1/10th of 1% of firearms are used to commit a murder. Every cig smoked causes some damage.

OK, here are stats from the CDC for 1998:

149,691 All deaths from accidents from non-disease
19,491 All Homocide
13,252 All gun homocides
11,145 MAles killed in Gun Homocides
2,105 females Killed in gun homocides
6,239 Non-Gun Homocides
30,535 Overall suicides
12,969 non-gun suicides
43,591 automobile deaths
726,974 Heart Disease

  1. Gun control should be more if a men’s issue because they are 5 times more likely to be killed by one

  2. Gun deaths represent …02% of the nations population. Peanuts. If you take out suicides, it drops to .01%

  3. Heart disease kills 21.6 times as many people as guns do.

  4. you are 3 times more likely to get killed in your car and I would bet many many times as likely to get injured, than by a gun of any sort let alone a 30 shot clip AK-47.

People are less willing to give up their car or fatty foods than they are to give up their Constitutional rights, it seems.


I’m just telling you what I read here: Additional Info. Here’s the exact quote about UCR stats from the Bureau of Justice Statistics: “Homicide as defined here includes murder and nonnegligent manslaughter which is the willful killing of one human being by another. Excluded are deaths caused by negligence, suicide, or accident; justifiable homicides; and attempts to murder.”

Unsolved crimes are classified under “unknown circumstances” and were excluded from the data that I posted. To quote myself: “Of the 11,687 gun homicides of which the circumstances were known …”

  • JB