For Release: Thursday, July 23, 2020
Nine out of 10 murder-suicides involve a gun, 65 percent involve an intimate partner
Study released amid national concern over potential murder-suicides related to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders
Washington, DC — More than 1,200 people died in murder-suicides in America in 2019 and 89 percent of the killers used a gun, according to a comprehensive new study by the Violence Policy Center (VPC).
The study’s release comes as concerns grow across the nation about the possibility of murder-suicides related to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders. For example, in April, an Illinois man, fearing both he and his long-time girlfriend had contracted the virus, shot and killed her before using the revolver to take his own life. Both victims later tested negative for the virus.
This is the seventh edition of the VPC’s American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States. The study analyzes news reports of murder-suicides for the six-month period January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019. Recognizing that there is no comprehensive national data collection system that measures murder-suicide, the VPC report is the largest and most comprehensive analysis available on murder-suicide in the United States.
The study found there were 280 murder-suicide events during this six-month period, or nearly 11 murder-suicides per week. These incidents resulted in 620 deaths, of which 280 were suicides and 340 were homicides. Sixty-five percent of the murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Doubling the total number of fatalities results in a yearly estimate of 1,240 murder-suicide deaths for 2019.
“Murder-suicide is a domestic violence issue, and guns are almost always involved,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand, “As communities across America respond to domestic violence incidents stemming from the current pandemic, the role played by firearms must be taken into account in any prevention strategy.”
Seven states had 10 or more murder-suicides in the six-month period of the study. In order, these states were: California (33); Texas (30); Florida (27); Georgia (11); Ohio (11); Michigan (10); and, Virginia (10). Five states had no murder-suicides during the study period.
American Roulette’s findings include:
- Of the 280 murder-suicides in the first half of 2019, 248 (89 percent) were known to involve a firearm.
- Sixty-five percent of the murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Of these, 95 percent were females killed by their intimate partners. Among the incidents where females were killed by intimate partners, 92 percent involved a gun.
- Most of the killers in murder-suicides were men. Of the 280 suicides, 255 (91 percent) were male, 23 (8 percent) were female, and two were not unidentified by sex.
- Most of the murder-suicide victims were women. Of the 340 homicide victims, 242 (71 percent) were female, 94 (28 percent) were male, and four were not identified by sex.
- Fifty-one of the homicide victims were children and teens less than 18 years of age.
- Eighty-one percent of the murder-suicides occurred in the home.
- Of the murder-suicides involving a male murderer and three or more victims, 60 percent were perpetrated by family annihilators — murderers who kill their intimate partners and their children before killing themselves.
- Sixty-seven children and teens less than 18 years of age were survivors who witnessed some aspect of the murder-suicide.
To help reduce the tragic toll of murder-suicides in the United States, the study’s recommendations include:
- Stronger domestic violence prevention legislation and the establishment of state domestic violence task forces.
- Restricting access to firearms where there is an increased risk of a murder-suicide; for example, where an individual has a history of domestic violence and/or has threatened suicide.
- Aggressive enforcement of laws that prohibit individuals with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction or who are the subject of a protective order for domestic violence from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
- Establishing a comprehensive, nationwide database to track murder-suicides.
No comprehensive national database or tracking system exists on murder-suicides in the United States. As a result, the VPC study necessarily relies on news reports for its analysis. The study’s estimate for the total number of murder-suicides per year is consistent with the standard range of estimates in medical studies.
To view the complete text of American Roulette, including examples of murder-suicides that have occurred across the country, visit: http://vpc.org/studies/amroul2020.pdf.
For past editions of American Roulette, please visit: http://vpc.org/revealing-the-impacts-of-gun-violence/murder-suicide/.
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.