COVID-19 Fears Reportedly Drive Gun Sales, Yet Guns are Rarely Used to Kill Criminals or Stop Crimes, Violence Policy Center Study Shows

For Release: Thursday, March 19, 2020

In 2016, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 37 criminal homicides

Guns purchased today will place families and friends at risk for gun suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths for years to come

Washington, DC — Recent news stories have reported anecdotal increases in gun sales due to COVID-19 fears, yet guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes according to the 2019 Violence Policy Center (VPC) study Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use (http://vpc.org/studies/justifiable19.pdf).

The study analyzes 2016 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and includes survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

The study finds that in 2016 there were only 274 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. That year, there were 10,341 criminal firearm homicides. Using these numbers, in 2016, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 37 criminal homicides. In the five-year period 2012 to 2016, 43,218 Americans died in gun homicides and guns were used in only 1,233 justifiable homicides, a ratio of 35 to one. Neither ratio takes into account the tens of thousands of lives lost each year in firearm suicides and unintentional gun deaths.

The study also reveals that only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime or property crime employ guns for self-defense. Over the three-year period 2014 to 2016, only 1.1 percent of victims of attempted or completed violent crimes used a firearm, and only 0.3 percent of victims of attempted or completed property crimes used a firearm. Of these, it is not known whether the firearm was even used successfully in self-defense.

VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “Guns purchased today will place families and friends at risk for gun suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths for years to come. The decades-long ‘fear thy neighbor’ marketing strategy of the firearms industry and gun lobby fuels gun sales in times of uncertainty. Yet the reality is that any gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional killing than in a justifiable homicide. When analyzing the most reliable data available, what is most striking is that in a nation of more than 300 million guns, how rarely firearms are actually used in self-defense.”

Additional findings of the VPC study include:

  • Nineteen states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2016: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
  • A significant percentage of the persons killed in firearm justifiable homicides were actually known to the shooter. In 2016, 34.3 percent of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 47.8 percent were strangers, and for 17.9 percent the relationship was unknown.
  • In comparison to how rarely guns are used in self-defense, a 2017 study estimated that there are approximately 250,000 gun theft incidents per year, with about 380,000 guns stolen. Further, according to the FBI, firearms were used in 189,718 aggravated assaults and 125,289 robberies in the United States in 2016 alone.

The 274 firearm justifiable homicides by private citizens in 2016 do not include shootings by law enforcement.

The full study is available at http://vpc.org/studies/justifiable19.pdf.

 

 

The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.

Media Contact:
Sally Martinelli
(202) 822-8200 x104
smartinelli@vpc.org