For Release: Monday, April 15, 2013
Washington, DC—“Guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes” according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) report Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use (vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf). The report analyzes national data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).
VPC Executive Director and study co-author Josh Sugarmann states, “The idea that ordinary citizens need access to extraordinary firepower in order to adequately defend themselves against criminals has become the default argument against a federal assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines. This new data exposes the fallacy of such arguments and clearly demonstrates that the frequency with which guns are used in self-defense in the real world has nothing in common with pro-gun assertions that firearms are used millions of times each year to kill criminals or stop crimes. In fact, a gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”
Key findings of the 19-page study include the following.
Firearm Justifiable Homicides by Private Citizens Occur Rarely
In 2010, across the nation there were only 230 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the FBI. That same year, there were 8,275 criminal gun homicides. Using these numbers, in 2010, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 36 criminal homicides. This ratio does not take into account the thousands of lives ended in gun suicides (19,392) or unintentional shootings (606) that year.
Firearms are Rarely Used in Self-Defense by Victims of Attempted or Completed Violent Crimes
For victims of both attempted and completed violent crimes, for the five-year period 2007 through 2011 in only 0.8 percent of these instances did the intended victim in resistance to a criminal engage in a self-protective behavior that involved a firearm. For the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that there were 29,618,300 victims of attempted or completed violent crimes. During this same five-year period, only 235,700 of the self-protective behaviors involved a firearm. Of this number, it is not known what type of firearm was used or whether it was fired or not. The number may also include off-duty law enforcement officers who use their firearms in self-defense.
Firearms are Rarely Used in Self-Defense by Victims of Attempted or Completed Property Crimes
For victims of both attempted and completed property crimes, for the five-year period 2007 through 2011 in only 0.1 percent of these instances did the intended victim in resistance to a criminal engage in a self-protective behavior that involved a firearm. For the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that there were 84,495,500 victims of attempted or completed property crimes. During this same five-year period, only 103,000 of the self-protective behaviors involved a firearm. Of this number, it is not known what type of firearm was used, whether it was fired or not, or whether the use of a gun would even be a legal response to the property crime. And that number as well may also include off-duty law enforcement officers. In comparison, new data from the Department of Justice shows that an average of 232,400 guns were stolen each year from U.S. households from 2005 to 2010.
Total Number of Actual Self-Defense Firearm Uses are Only a Small Fraction of Pro-Gun Claims
According to the NCVS, for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the total number of self-protective behaviors involving a firearm by victims of attempted or completed violent crimes or property crimes totaled only 338,700. In comparison, the gun lobby claims that during the same five-year period guns were used 12.5 million times in self-defense (applying to the five-year period the gun lobby’s oft-repeated claim that firearms are used in self-defense 2.5 million times a year).
More than a Third of Persons Shot and Killed in Justifiable Homicides in 2010 Were Known to the Shooter
In 2010, 35.7 percent (82 of 230) of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 56.5 percent (130) were strangers, and in 7.8 percent (18) the relationship was unknown.
Additional information in the VPC report includes sex, race, relationship, and weapon used in justifiable homicides for 2010 and the five-year period 2006 to 2010. The study also includes justifiable homicides by state for the years 2006 to 2010.
The study concludes, “The idea that firearms are frequently used in self-defense is the primary argument that the gun lobby and firearms industry use to expand the carrying of firearms into an ever-increasing number of public spaces and even to prevent the regulation of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Yet this argument is hollow and the assertions false. 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 used in self-defense.”
About the Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.