For Release: Wednesday, September 12, 2018
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, utilizes recent federal data which shows that private citizens use guns to harm themselves or others far more often than to kill in self-defense.
The study’s release comes as the myth of self-defense gun use is currently being promoted from Capitol Hill to public schools across the nation. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh claims handguns and semiautomatic rifles are commonly used in self-defense, which he says limits the degree to which they can be regulated. At the same time, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in response to mass shootings at schools, wants to use federal tax dollars to arm teachers.
The study analyzes 2015 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 2015 there were only 265 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. Seventeen states reported zero justifiable homicides in 2015. That year, there were 9,027 criminal firearm homicides.
In 2015, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 34 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 employed guns for self-defense. Over a three-year period from 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.
“The myth of the self-defense gun lives on in firearms industry ads, NRA dogma, and self-serving political rhetoric. The reality is that guns don’t save lives, they end them,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann.
Among the study’s detailed findings are:
• In 2015, there were only 265 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 9,027 criminal firearm homicides.
• In 2015, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a firearm, guns were used in 34 criminal homicides. This ratio does not include the tens of thousands of lives taken in suicides or unintentional shootings.
• Seventeen states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2015: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
• Intended victims of violent crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm in only 1.1 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2014 and 2016.
• Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm in only 0.3 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2014 and 2016.
• A significant percentage of the persons killed in firearm justifiable homicides were actually known to the shooter. In 2015, 37.7 percent of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 49.4 percent were strangers, and for 12.8 percent the relationship was unknown.
• The shooters in justifiable homicides are overwhelmingly male. In 2015, of the 265 firearm justifiable homicides, 93.2 percent were committed by men.
• The 265 firearm justifiable homicides by private citizens in 2015 do not include shootings by law enforcement.
The full study is available at http://vpc.org/studies/justifiable18.pdf.
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.