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FIREARM-RELATED HARM

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The majority of firearm-related deaths are the result of murder and

suicide, while the majority of nonfatal firearm-related injuries are the result

of assaults and accidents. Firearm-related deaths constitute the majority of

all homicides and suicides, but firearm-related injuries represent only a

minority of nonfatal injuries.6

Table 3-3 shows overall and firearm-related deaths by intent based on

National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) data. In 1999, there were 28,874

firearm-related reported deaths in the United States. Suicide and homicide

accounted for the majority of these fatalities, representing 57 and 37 percent

of total firearm-related deaths, respectively. Furthermore, firearm-

FIGURE 3-1 Distribution of firearms ownership across geographic regions, 1993-

1998 (N = 100).

SOURCES: Baumer et al. (2002); Rosenfeld et al. (2001).

6In this section we use data from the National Vital Statistics System, the National Crime

Victimization Survey, the Uniform Crime Reports, and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance

System.

related deaths accounted for the majority of the total number of deaths in

each category except accidents. In that case, firearm-related deaths accounted

for a tiny fraction of all deaths by accidental means.

Table 3-4 shows overall and firearm-related nonfatal injuries by intent

based on National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) data. In

2000, there were 75,685 nonfatal firearm-related injuries in the United

States. Injuries from violent assault and accidents accounted for the majority

of all firearm injuries—64 and 31 percent, respectively. In contrast to

completed suicides, firearms account for a small proportion of self-inflicted

nonfatal injuries.

How much violent crime involves the use of a firearm?7 This question

can be answered with varying degrees of certainty, depending on the

crime and the data source consulted. In general, data on homicide are the

TABLE 3-3 Overall Firearm-Related Deaths, 1999

Category Firearm-Related Total % Firearm-Related

Number Rate a Number Rate a Percent

Suicide 16,599 6.09 29,199 10.71 56.85

Homicide 10,828 3.97 16,899 6.19 64.07

Accident 824 0.30 97,860 35.89 0.84

Legal intervention 299 0.11 398 0.15 75.13

Total 28,874 10.59 148,286 54.30 19.47

aRate per 100,000 population

SOURCE: National Vital Statistics System data compiled using Web-based Injury Statistics

Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). National Center for Health Statistics (2002).

TABLE 3-4 Number and Rate (per 100,000) of Overall and Firearm-

Related Nonfatal Injuries by Intent, 2000

Firearm-Related Total

Number Rate Number Rate

Assault 48,570 17.64 1,672,117 607.37

Legal intervention 862 0.31 63,304 22.99

Suicide attempt 3016 1.10 264,108 95.93

Accident 23,237 8.44 27,550,181 10,007.10

Total 75,685 27.49 29,549,710 10,733.39

SOURCE: NEISS data compiled using WISQARS (National Center for Health Statistics,

2002).

7By definition, firearm involvement in violent crime includes not only the discharge of a

firearm but also the presence of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

most reliably reported and provide greater detail about the circumstances

of the offense. Of crimes known to police in 2000, the most recent year

for which Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) data are available, firearms

were involved in 66 percent of the 15,517 murders, 41 percent of the

406,842 robberies, and 18 percent of the 910,744 aggravated assaults.

Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) for 2000

indicate about 3 percent of the 260,950 rapes or sexual assaults involved

the use of a firearm, although this estimate is based on 10 or fewer sample

cases (Rennison, 2001).

Firearms and Homicide

Weaponry in Homicide

According to the UCR, 10,179 murders were committed with firearms

in the United States in 2000, corresponding to a rate of 3.6 per 100,000.8

This count is down from a historic high in 1993 of 17,046 firearm-related

murders (6.6 per 100,000). Handguns were used to commit 52 percent of

all homicides, and firearms of any kind were used to commit 66 percent

of all homicides in that year; 14 percent were committed with knives or

other cutting implements, and 7 percent were achieved with hands, feet,

or other “personal weapons.”

Trends in weapon-specific homicide rates from 1976 to 2000 are

shown in Figure 3-2. Handgun homicides rose until 1993 and then fell,

tracking closely the overall homicide rate, while the rates for other firearms,

knives, and other weapons fell steadily and closely track each other.

Thus, handgun homicides accounted for virtually all of the increase in the

overall homicide rate between 1985 and 1993, the year the handgun

homicide rate reached its 25-year peak of 5.4 per 100,000 (an estimated

14,005 handgun homicides).

The likely use of firearms varies dramatically from one type of homicide

to another. For example, in the year 2000, about 17 percent of homicides

were known to have occurred during the commission of other crimes;

among these, 73 percent of robbery-related homicides were committed with

a firearm, but only 9 percent of rape-related homicides were committed

with a firearm.

8These UCR statistics differ slightly from those presented in Table 3-3. Since the UCR

collects data from police sources and the NVSS from medical examiner records, the disparity

between the two systems arises because of data collection differences. Despite these differences,

the systems are highly concordant in their estimates of firearm-related murder. Here we

present UCR-Supplemental Homicide Report data because they provide information about

offenders, weaponry, and circumstances surrounding the offense—information not found in

the NVSS.