It’s true; U.S. firearm violence is declining

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Total fatal,



*2011 preliminary homicide estimates retrieved from Hoyert DL, Xu JQ. (2012) Deaths: Preliminary data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Reports, 61(6).

A lot of facts and figures are thrown around in the gun-control debate. One point often made by those who favor leaving things as they are is that firearm violence has been steadily decreasing in the United States. Take a look at the table above, and you’ll see it’s true. (Choose “Show 25 entries” to see all the data at once.)

We can debate what steps, if any, should be taken to further reduce firearm violence, which I believe is still at appalling levels. But facts are facts, and the “no additional regulation” crowd has this set of statistics as an arrow in its quiver. (A bullet in its gun?) Or  maybe not. Nearly 480,000 fatal and nonfatal firearm victimizations is still one hell of a lot of criminal activity – and still worthy of being addressed.

This set of data was released on May 7 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. You can learn more here. Below is the text of the news release that accompanied the data.

Firearm-related homicides declined 39 percent and nonfatal firearm crimes declined 69 percent from 1993 to 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. Firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011, and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.

For both fatal and nonfatal firearm victimizations, the majority of the decline occurred during the 10-year period from 1993 to 2002. The number of firearm homicides declined from 1993 to 1999, rose through 2006 and then declined through 2011. Nonfatal firearm violence declined from 1993 through 2004 before fluctuating in the mid- to late 2000s.

In 2011, about 70 percent of all homicides and 8 percent of all nonfatal violent victimizations (rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault) were committed with a firearm, mainly a handgun. A handgun was used in about 7 in 10 firearm homicides and about 9 in 10 nonfatal firearm violent crimes in 2011. In the same year, about 26 percent of robberies and 31 percent of aggravated assaults involved a firearm, such as handguns, shotguns or rifles.

In 2007-11, about one percent of victims in all nonfatal violent crimes reported using a firearm to defend themselves during the incident. A small number of property crime victims also used a firearm in self-defense—about 0.1 percent of all property victimizations.

The majority of nonfatal firearm violence occurred in or around the victim’s home (42 percent) or in an open area, on the street, or while on public transportation (23 percent). Less than one percent of all nonfatal firearm violence occurred in schools.

From 1993 to 2010, males, blacks and persons ages 18 to 24 were most likely to be victims of firearm-related homicide. In 2011, the rate of nonfatal firearm violent for males (1.9 per 1,000) was not significantly different than the rate for females (1.6 per 1,000). Non-Hispanic blacks (2.8 per 1,000) and Hispanics (2.2 per 1,000) had higher rates of nonfatal firearm violence than non-Hispanic whites (1.4 per 1,000). Persons ages 18 to 24 had the highest rates of nonfatal firearm violence (5.2 per 1,000).

In 2004 (the most recent year of data available), among state prison inmates who possessed a gun at the time of the offense, fewer than 2 percent bought their firearm at a flea market or gun show. About 10 percent of state prison inmates said they purchased it from a retail store or pawnshop, 37 percent obtained it from family or friends, and another 40 percent obtained it from an illegal source.

Findings in this report on nonfatal firearm violence are based on data from the BJS National Crime Victimization Survey. Findings on firearm homicide are based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.

Additional information on firearm violence in this report comes from the School-Associated Violent Deaths Surveillance Study, the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System All Injury Program, the Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, and the Survey of Inmates in Federal Correctional Facilities.

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