For Release: Wednesday, May 13, 2020
In 2017, for every justifiable homicide in the U.S. involving a gun, guns were used in 35 criminal homicides
Washington, DC — For every time a gun is used to justifiably kill a criminal, guns claim 35 lives in criminal homicides alone according to Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, a just-released study from the Violence Policy Center (VPC). This most recent edition of the VPC study comes amidst reports of increased gun sales due to COVID-19 fears.
The study analyzes 2017 data (the most recent year available) 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 2017 there were only 298 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. That year, there were 10,380 criminal firearm homicides. Using these numbers, in 2017, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 35 criminal homicides. For the five-year period 2013 to 2017, 45,256 Americans died in gun homicides and guns were used in only 1,272 justifiable homicides, a ratio of 36 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.
“One of the greatest successes of the NRA and its financial partners in the gun industry has been their ability to perpetuate the myth that guns are used millions of times a year for self-defense. In fact, guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes. For those who have recently purchased a gun and think they’ve bought peace of mind, the grim reality is that any gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional death than to kill a criminal,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann.
Additional findings include:
- Eleven states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2017: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
- A significant percentage of the persons killed in firearm justifiable homicides were actually known to the shooter. In 2017, 34.6 percent of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 41.9 percent were strangers, and for 23.5 percent the relationship was unknown.
- The shooters in justifiable homicides are overwhelmingly male. In 2017, of the 298 firearm justifiable homicides, 85.9 percent were committed by men.
- 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.
The 298 firearm justifiable homicides by private citizens in 2017 do not include shootings by law enforcement.
The full study is available at http://vpc.org/studies/justifiable20.pdf.
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.