Self-Defense Gun Use is Rare, New Violence Policy Center Study Confirms

For Release: Wednesday, July 16, 2019

Washington, DC — Guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes according to Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, a new analysis from the Violence Policy Center (VPC).

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.

“The myth of the self-defense gun is promoted by the firearms industry and gun lobby to fuel gun sales,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “The reality is that guns are far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional killing than in a justifiable homicide.”

Additional findings 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.

• The shooters in justifiable homicides are overwhelmingly male. In 2016, of the 274 firearm justifiable homicides, 88.0 percent were committed by men.

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.”

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

The full study is available at



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

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