Self-Defense Gun Use is Rare

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, analyzes the most recent federal data available, which shows that private citizens use guns to harm themselves or others far more often than to kill in self-defense.

The study analyzes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and cites survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

The study finds that in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, there were only 224 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. Eighteen states reported zero justifiable homicides in 2014. That year, there were 7,670 criminal firearm homicides.

In 2014, 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 employ guns for self-defense. Over a three-year period from 2013 to 2015, only 1.1 percent of victims of attempted or completed violent crimes used a firearm, and only 0.2 percent of victims of attempted or completed property crimes used a firearm.

“The gun lobby’s repeated claims that guns are needed for self-defense is simply an industry lie used to promote gun sales,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “A gun is far more likely to be used in a criminal homicide, suicide, or unintentional killing than in justifiable self-defense.”

The study’s detailed findings include:

•    In 2014, there were only 224 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 7,670 criminal firearm homicides.

•    In 2014, 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.

•    Eighteen states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2014: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia.

•    Intended victims of violent crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm in only 1.1 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2013 and 2015.

•    Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm in only 0.2 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2013 and 2015.

•    A significant percentage of the persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, not strangers. In 2014, 34.4 percent of persons killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 54.9 percent were strangers, and for 10.7 percent the relationship was unknown.

•    The shooters in justifiable homicides are overwhelmingly male. In 2014, of the 224 firearm justifiable homicides, 93.3 percent were committed by men.

•    The 224 firearm justifiable homicides by private citizens in 2014 do not include shootings by law enforcement.

The full study is available at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable17.pdf.


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