Gun Use in Crimes Outpaces Justifiable Homicides, 35 to 1

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Photo by Alan Hawes/

For every time a firearm is used to kill a criminal justifiably, guns claim 35 lives in criminal homicides alone, says a new study from the Violence Policy Center. It was issued amid reports of higher gun sales due to COVID-19 fears.

The study analyzes 2017 data,the most recent available from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

It found that there were only 298 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm in 2017. There were 10,380 firearm homicides the same year.

Between 2013 and 2017, 45,256 Americans died in gun homicides, and guns were used in only 1,272 justifiable homicides, a ratio of 36 to one, the center said. Its study said that only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime or property crime use guns for self-defense.

Center director Josh Sugarmann called it a “myth that guns are used millions of times a year for self-defense.”

He said that “guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes. For those who have recently purchased a gun and think they’ve bought peace of mind, the grim reality is that any gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional death than to kill a criminal.”

Eleven states reported no justifiable firearm homicides by civilians in 2017: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

In 2017, 34.6 percent of those killed in a firearm justifiable homicide were known to the shooter, 41.9 percent were strangers, and for 23.5 percent the relationship was unknown.

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, the study said.

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