Last year (2016) the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report states that number of firearms-related homicides was 11,004. Each was a personal tragedy, but how significant were they in terms of devising a strategy to prevent future murders?
Number of justifiable homicides (law enforcement): 435
Number of justifiable homicides (civilian):331
Difference/Criminal homicides: 10,228
The UCR does not specify the number of murderers (I use this word to collectively refer to those who commit criminal homicides, even though the charge may have been criminal negligence rather than capitol murder, for instance; it’s literary shorthand for “perpetrator of criminal homicide”) who used firearms, only the number of victims killed with firearms. Given the above data, we know that we have a theoretical maximum of 10,228 firearms-wielding murderers. In fact, since we also know of serial and and mass shootings, the number of gun murderers must be lower, but is not quantifiable with available data. For purposes of discussion I will use the high 10,228 figure for murderers.
US Population (2016): 322,762,018
Percent that are gun murderers: 0.0032%
That’s 32 ten-thousandths of 1 percent.
Estimates of American gun owners vary by significantly large amounts. The lowest I have seen is 55 million, or roughly 17% of the general population. The highest is 120 million, or approximately 37%.
Therefore, murderers are 0.0085 to 0.0186% of all gun owners. 85 ten-thousandths of 1 percent to 186 ten-thousandths of 1 percent. The greater estimate is represented graphically:
In reality, the number of gun owning murderers is far lower than even that. Some 64% of violent criminals have prior convictions, which would make them “prohibited persons” who cannot lawfully possess a firearm. Even if we disregard that — perhaps the criminal bought a lawfully owned firearm from some trusting soul — data indicates that 88% of firearms-related homicides are committed with stolen guns. Being in possession of stolen property clearly does not make one the owner.
The potential number of gun-owning murderers suddenly drops by 9,000 to 1,228. That makes them, at most, 0.0022% of all gun owners; 22 ten-thousandths of 1 percent. But, in reality, even fewer than that because as I noted, each murder victim doesn’t represent a separate individual killer (serial/mass murders); I opted for the high number out of convenience.
Perhaps gun owners aren’t the problem. Could it be the guns?
Figuring the number of “murder guns” is difficult. The Uniform Crime Report gives the percentage of total murders committed with firearms, but doesn’t give the total number of weapons, nor does ATF gun trace data break out guns by crime (not even guns by whether or not criminally used). But since we know there were 10,228 firearms-using murders, we can figure a minimum of 10,228 firearms as well. As for a maximum, the highest number of firearms in a single one-shooter incident I am aware of is the approximately two dozen in the Mandalay Bay shooters hotel room. Even a month later, the exact number of firearms present varies in news reports, and how many were, in fact, fired has not yet been made public. For convenience, I’ll use 24 (the highest number I’ve seen) were all used.
We have no idea, given the lack of data, of the average number of guns used by murderers. We know it ranges from 1 to 24, but those 10,228 individual shooters could have used any number in that range. For this discussion, I’ll make the probably outrageous assumption that the average is as high as 12, midway in the range (my gut feel is that average is closer to 1.1 per shooter).
So… 10,228 shooters time 12 guns, gives a hypothetical number of “murder guns” of 122,736 (gut feel would be 11,250).
I guesstimated gun owner numbers. Firearms estimates are just as vague. Recent lowball estimates are around 265 million. Others put it well over 300 million. Or over 400 million. The highest estimate I’ve encountered is 750 million.
122,736 murder weapons would be 0.0463% (less than 5 hundredths of a percent) of the low estimate. Or 0.0307% (a hair over 3 hundredths of a single percent) of the 400 million estimate. I’m not going to bother graphing that either.
Murderers and their weapons are such a tiny fraction of a percentage of all gun owners and their arms that both are statistical outliers.
Murderers cannot be taken as representative of gun owners, and any attempt to address “gun violence” by ignoring that fact, by proposing sweeping laws and regulations addressing all gun owners and all guns, will fail. Any “stumbling block” put before all gun owners in hopes of catching the murderers, any delay or restriction, will miss the intended target demographic — murderers — and is an infringement of human/civil rights of the 99.9814% of — tens to hundreds of millions — gun owners who didn’t do it.
No, new restrictions — just like the current restrictions — will not work.
Criminals break laws. They don’t — and cannot be required to — undergo background checks. The vast majority of criminals obtain their firearms through already unlawful channels, bypassing background checks and other supposed limits on their access. That is why universal background checks do not result in a reduction in gun homicide rates. Background checks merely make the process of lawfully purchasing a firearm — remember, something that criminals bypass — more expensive and inconvenient for the large majority of honest people, particularly when considering that approximately 94% of NICS denials are false positives resulting in more expensive, delays, and sometimes legal intervention for law-abiding people.
If those allegedly intent upon eliminating “gun violence” truly have that as their goal, they must change their focus. Stop regulating “guns” and “gun owners,” and begin looking at the specific offenders. For one thing, being such a smaller group, they’re easier to examine.
They should examine 1) murderer demographics (the UCR is a good place to start), and 2) murderer motivations and drivers (turf wars over drug-marketing territory for instance).
I predict that they will discover — if they go about honest research — that most murders are related to unlawful drugs because the profitable black market is worth fighting over. Note that AbbVie rarely send gangbangers out to commit drive-bys on Pfizer. But the “War on (some) Drugs” has boosted the street price of a weed that grow over virtually the entire continent to hundreds of dollars.
They will also likely discover that those once convicted of crimes have limited chances to find honest work at pay scales similar to drug-dealing.
They will discover repeat offenders — even repeat murderers — on the street thanks to plea deals, rather than being incarcerated. Incarceration may not be rehabilitative, but at least the killer isn’t on the street killing more competitors and innocents.
They’ll find criminals who were motivated by a need for enough money to buy their drugs at regulatively-inflated prices.
They should look at where gun crimes occur, and examine the political/economic/psychological reasons behind the clustering.
And yes, they will find some murderers who are simply crazy. Perhaps if they study those people closely enough, they’ll learn the warning signs so that other such can be stopped before they kill.
But they have to address the problem, not the 99.9814% who didn’t do it (except perhaps to establish a baseline for decency and sanity by which the murderers can be judged). If those allegedly intent upon eliminating “gun violence” won’t do this, we have to ask, what are their true motives? And how will they respond to growing noncompliance with irrational, inconvenient, and expensively useless infringements on gun owners’ rights?
Carl is an unpaid TZP volunteer. If you found this post useful, please consider dropping something in his tip jar.
Ed. note: This commentary appeared first in TZP’s weekly email alert. If you would like to be among the first to see new commentary (as well as to get notice of new polls and recaps of recent posts), please sign up for our alert list. (See sidebar or, if you’re on a mobile device, scroll down). Be sure to respond when you receive your activation email!