For release: April 21, 2016
Washington, DC — New research from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) confirms that contrary to what the firearms industry and gun lobby claim, private citizens rarely use guns to kill criminals or stop crimes.
The new study, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, analyzes the most recent federal data available, which shows that private citizens use guns to harm themselves or others far more often than to kill in self-defense.
The study analyzes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and cites survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).
The study finds that in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, there were only 211 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. Twenty states reported zero justifiable homicides in 2013. That year, there were 7,838 criminal firearm homicides.
In 2013, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 37 criminal homicides. This ratio does not even take into account the tens of thousands of lives needlessly lost in gun suicides and unintentional shootings that year.
The study also finds only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime or property crime employ guns for self-defense. Over a three-year period from 2012 to 2014, less than one percent of victims of attempted or completed violent crimes used a firearm, and only 0.2 percent of victims of attempted or completed property crimes used a firearm.
“Self-defense is the big lie that the firearms industry and gun lobby use to promote gun sales. The fact is that any gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional killing than in a justifiable homicide,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “A gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”
The study’s detailed findings include:
• In 2013, there were only 211 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 7,838 criminal firearm homicides.
• In 2013, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a firearm, guns were used in 37 criminal homicides. This ratio does not include the tens of thousands of lives taken in suicides or unintentional shootings.
• Twenty states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2013: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
• Intended victims of violent crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm in only 0.9 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2012 and 2014.
• Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm in only 0.2 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2012 and 2014.
• A significant percentage of the persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, not strangers. In 2013, 27 percent of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 59.7 percent were strangers, and for 13.3 percent of persons the relationship was unknown.
• The shooters in justifiable homicides are overwhelmingly male. In 2013, of the 211 firearm justifiable homicides, 93.8 percent were committed by men.
• The 211 firearm justifiable homicides by private citizens in 2013 do not include shootings by law enforcement.
The full study is available at http://vpc.org/studies/justifiable16.pdf.