Monday, August 31, 2009

Who is Doing All the Shooting?

In a recent post I made the claim that most of the incidents of gun violence are committed by lawful gun owners. Naturally this didn't go over very well with some of the commenters and I was asked to explain. Here it is.

According to the Department of Justice, which produced a number of surveys on this very question, we have the results of one of those surveys on Table 11, page 19 of this report.

Nearly 3 in 4 defendants with a conviction record, 43% of defendants overall, had at least one prior conviction for a felony (table 11). Thirty-five percent of defendants whose current charge was for a violent felony had previously been convicted of a felony. Murder (42%) and robbery(41%) defendants were about twice as likely as rape defendants (21%) to have a felony conviction record. Thirty-six percent of assault defendants had a prior felony conviction.

For murderers, the percentage who had prior felony convictions was 42%. This means very simply that 58% of the folks surveyed in this report, done by the DOJ, I remind you, were law-abiding gun owners until the moment they pulled the trigger.

Another even larger part of gun violence, often overlooked, is suicide. I don't understand why some people want to leave it out. To me a self-inflicted bullet to the brain is about as violent as it gets.

The Illinois Council against Handgun Violence understands this and has produced a useful fact sheet.

U.S. firearm suicide total was 17,002, an increase of 1.5% from 2004 national gun suicide numbers. The state of Illinois saw a nearly 10% INCREASE in gun suicides in that same time, from 387 in 2004 to 424 in 2005. Most suicides in the U.S. are committed with firearms.

More than half of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with firearms. In 2004, 52% of all suicides in the U.S. were committed with guns. In Illinois, guns suicides made up 39% of the total suicides for 2004.

Access to lethal means, especially firearms, greatly increases the likelihood that someone will commit suicide. A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used to attempt or commit a suicide than to be used in self-defense.

Taking these facts into consideration, there's only one thing we have to speculate about. No one seems to provide data on what percentage of gun suicides are committed by law-abiding gun owners and what percentage by criminals. What do you think those numbers would be? Would you say 50% / 50%? I don't think so. I'd say it's more like 80% lawful and 20% criminal.

The same type of speculation goes for gun accidents. I'm sure some criminals shoot themselves by accident, but I would imagine the largest percentage is among the lawful gun owners.

To sum up, when combining the number of murders committed by non-criminals, 58%, with the suicides committed by law-abiding gun owners, 80%, and the number of lethal accidents, let's say another 80%, you've got an overwhelming case for considering that, as shocking as it may sound, most gun violence is committed by law-abiding gun owners.

What's your opinion? How would you adjust those percentages? I realize other DOJ surveys showed other percentages, and the suicide and accident percentages are speculation, so what would you say?

Lethal Logic by Dennis A. Henigan, pp. 70, 71

Please leave a comment.


  1. You really got me for a minute there, Mike. I thought, "Oh, crap, he has figured out how all of us middle aged suburban white males legally buy our guns and then go out on shooting sprees in large numbers." LOL

    Anyway ... if you assume the only reason to be prohibited from legally buying a weapon is having committed a felony, you're missing a few things. Take a look at ATF laws for purchasing a firearm:

    Prohibitions include:

    1. A person who hasn't committed a felony but a misdemeanor with a 1 year sentence. That'll take out a small percentage of your "legal" gun owner/criminals.

    2. "Illegal alien" will take out a couple more.

    3. Oh yeah ... and anyone "who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." Talk to any police officer who's made such arrests and he'll tell you this includes a very, very large percentage of people they pick up for crimes of any kind.

    4. You must be 21 or older to buy a handgun. If you look at the FBI's unifrom crime statistics report:

    you'll see that better than 25% of all murderers are under the age of 22 (meaning they couldn't purchase a handgun legally in any case). And these are also people the most unlikely, because of age, to have a felony conviction.

    Keep setting 'em up, Amigo, and we'll keep knockin' em' out of the park ... eventually you'll figure it out.

    In terms of suicide ... there's just a disconnect here I don't think is resolvable.

    To me, the government has a responsibility to protect me from threats both foreign and domestic, as well as manage aspects of the economy and trade and etc.

    But the government has NO requirement to protect me from myself and should not. If I decide for whatever reason, either understandable or not, to take my own life ... obviously the government should offer me what options they can to talk me out of it (if nothing else because suicide is messy), but they shouldn't base laws for the rest of the land on my own potential weakness. I'm not going to rip the gun away from a woman defending herself from a rapist so that some guy with terminal cancer can't shoot himself in the head when he's had enough of chemo.

    I realize there are kids who kill themselves as well ... and that is very sad for any parent. But as I've said before ... a kid doesn't see a gun and decide "Ah, what the heck ... it's a boring Saturday, I'll end it all as long as there's a gun here." A kid, or any person, DECIDES to kill themself and then looks for a means to do it. If they are serious about it, they will choose a gun or a jump off a very tall place. If they are not sure, they'll take pills and then call their best friend or just threaten to kill themselves until someone talks them out of it or in to it.

  2. "For murderers, the percentage who had prior felony convictions was 42%. This means very simply that 58% of the folks surveyed in this report, done by the DOJ, I remind you, were law-abiding gun owners until the moment they pulled the trigger."

    So where is the part in the report that says that these murders were all committed with firearms?

  3. In a recent post I made the claim that most of the incidents of gun violence are committed by lawful gun owners.

    Nice try Sparky. You go from saying that incidents of gun violence to talking only about MURDERS

    not really comparing apples to apples there are you Sparky?

    From your very own citation:
    The percentage of defendants with one or more prior felony arrests rose to 64% in 2002, continuing an upward trend that began after 1992 when 55% had a felony arrest record.

    Then there is this:
    After reaching a high of 61% in the 1994 study, the felony onviction rate fell to 52%
    Just because they didn't have a conviction, doesn't mean they were or are law abiding. They could have pled down to a misdemeanor, received deferred adjudication, etc.

    Again, from your own citation:
    A majority of rape (65%), murder (61%), robbery (59%), and drug trafficking (58%) defendants faced at least one additional felony charge....More than two-fifths of forgery (46%), weapons (43%), and assault (42%) defendants faced multiple felony charges.

    61% of murder defendants faced at least one additional felony charge. Doesn't say what charge, but isn't it common sense to say that they murder defendants were already breaking the law before the murder?

    Here is what I was looking for:
    whose most serious current arrest
    charge was for a public-order (80%)
    or drug (79%) offense were more likely to have been previously arrested than those charged with a property (75%) or violent (72%) offense.

    72% of those with violent offenses were likely to have been previously arrested.

    Wow, this shows the system isn't working:
    An estimated 31% of defendants had 10 or more prior arrest charges. This included 35% of defendants charged with murder, burglary, or motor vehicle

    Nearly a third had 10 or more arrests....guess we might want to reconsider sentencing lengths and plea bargaining, eh?

    You tried to prove it and ended up showing nothing MikeB.

    There are more "gun incidents" then murder and you didn't show any of those.

  4. "For murderers, the percentage who had prior felony convictions was 42%. This means very simply that 58% of the folks surveyed in this report, done by the DOJ, I remind you, were law-abiding gun owners until the moment they pulled the trigger."

    Read little Steve's comment again, he covered it quite nicely.

    I can't figure out what's more disturbing, your total lack of understanding concerning firearms law or the fact that you can't or won't see these blatantly false assumptions for yourself?

    But hey, that's why we're here I guess.

  5. incidents of gun violence

    So you look at all criminals (not just criminals with guns), gun suicides, and accidents.

    Let's start with accidents. I wouldn't classify it as being a part of gun violence, but it is your blog. Most studies I have seen about violence include some sort of definition of being done on purpose or with intent. That precludes all accidents since the definition of an accident is the exact opposite. But whatever. If you want to include it lets be consistent.

    "Most of the incidents of gun violence are committed by lawful gun owners."

    "Most of the incidents of car violence are committed by lawful car owners."

    "Most of the incidents of parachute violence (we're including accidents remember) are committed by lawful parachute owners."

    "Most of the incidents of X violence are committed by lawful X owners."

    Your statement is absolutely meaningless because it can be said about anything.

    Now assuming that accidents are not part of gun violence, your left with suicide and criminal activities. You say 80/20 for lawful/unlawful owners. I won't argue with it, I don't have any data one way or the other. According to WISQARS there were approximately (rounding up to the nearest thousand) 17,000 gun suicides and 4000 gun injuries from attempted suicide in 2006. So 21,000 instances of gun violence to start, of which 16,800 were from lawful owners, and 4,200 were from unlawful owners.

    Next, for crime we can round up and say that there are 1 million crimes committed with firearms each year (the first thing you should notice is that criminal use so far outnumbers suicides (and accidents even if you want to count those) that suicides and accidents will have no bearing on the final numbers, even if 100% of accidents and suicides are by the law abiding. So what we need to find out is how many of the gun crimes are committed by 1st time offenders or previous offenders. I found some substantiation (not perfect mind you) here on page 6 Table 7.

    I'll just use the state numbers since they are more favorable to mikeb. It lists the number of first time offenders with a gun and recidivists with at gun. Multiplying the percentages by the population of each you get 55,000 1st time offenders with a gun and 134,000 recidivists with a gun. So even though a smaller percentage of recidivists use guns in commission of their latest crime, because there are 3 times the number of recidivists as 1st time offenders they still account for far more gun crimes. So from this we could postulate that 29% (55000/(55000+134000)) of gun crimes are committed by formerly "lawful" gun owners (that is of course ignoring all of those other things that Little Steve already mentioned).

    What this means is that formerly "lawful" gun violence incidents are 290,000+16,800=306,800. While "unlawful" gun violence incidents are 710,000+4,200=714,200. In other words at most 30% of gun violence is committed by formerly "lawful" gun owners. If we did a further analysis on those other pesky issues Little Steve brought up, I would bet that it would decrease much, much further.

    Even if we added in accidents and used the WISQARS numbers again for injuries and deaths from firearms (16,000) and multiplied it by 10 to account for all of the other accidents that didn't result in an injury and assumed that only "lawful" gun owners have accidents, you still don't get 50%.

    But, I guess I am not being honest in my reasoning am I? Show me where.

  6. Little Steve, As kaveman pointed out you're right about the other-than-felony ways of becoming a prohibited person. That would change the numbers.

    And I'm not sure how the juveniles are factored into these stats. And, as FWM said, maybe these numbers aren't limited to guns in any case, which would make Bob right when he says I'm comparing apples to oranges again.

    But what are you saying, that so few lawful gun owners do this kind of thing that we don't need to worry about it?

    What about the suicides? Are you really saying we can't include them based on the libertarian nonsense.

    Henigan has the percentage way up there. Maybe after you guys get done hacking away, we'll all agree on the famous 10% that I've always referred to. What do you think?

  7. MikeB,

    80,000,000 firearm owners.
    12,000 murders each year
    400,000 firearm related violent crimes.

    Equals 0.515% of gun owners.

    That is before we start taking away the crimes committed by drug dealers, before we take away the crimes committed by felons, before we take away crimes committed by gangs (remember the FBI estimated that 80% of crime was committed by gangs).

    Repeating 10% over and over again doesn't make it true it just puts you in to some special company

  8. Even if (and that is a big if) 10% of all gun violence was committed by "lawful" gun owners, that does not mean that 10% of "lawful" gun owners will commit gun violence.

    If we assume there are 1 million instances of gun violence each year, 50% (by your reckoning) committed by "lawful" gun owners and I'll add, each person commits 2 instances of gun violence (to account for the multiple murders and such), then 250,000 "lawful" gun owners are committing violence each year.

    Now, if we only assume that there are 50 million gun owners (which is definitely on the low end of any estimate), then we have 0.5% of "lawful" gun owners committing violence each year. If we said that no gun owners died for 20 years (a complete impossibility) and no new gun owners were born (another impossibility), then you would finally get to your 10%.

    When are you going to show some honest reasoning (that you accuse us of not having) of the facts?

  9. we'll all agree on the famous 10% that I've always referred to. What do you think?

    Not just no, but hell no Mike.

    Not only is your "famous 10%" complete and utter crap, but this is America. Assuming the number were 10%, we do not infringe upon the rights of 90% of citizens because of the illegal actions of 10%.

    As Bob said, even massaging the data in your favor we end up with a percentage under 1%.

  10. Mike B. ... in terms of my outlook on guns in suicidie being "libertarian nonsense," I'm not a libertarian per se but those are my honest feelings. I'm explaining to you how I feel, not trying to convince you to feel the same. I have to accept people with your view, you have to accept people with mine. Diversity!

    In terms of the rest ... we should always look at ways to make our society safer and less violent. But we have to balance that with civil liberties, and you only restrict a civil liberty when you're sure it will truly make society safer. The kind of gun control being pushed, far less than a total ban, is liberty restricting but not helpful -- and I think a total ban would have limited results at best and definitely eliminate a civil right.

    And 10% ... the percentage isn't important, as some people commit crimes for the first time no matter what. But if 10% were true that would be somwhere around 9 million criminal gun owners.

    But that is tainted in any case because a non-criminal may be a gun owner or may not, but a criminal will ALWAYS choose to be a gun owner. i.e. when a non-gun owner chooses to be a violent criminal, they will almost always choose to get a gun. But it's not the gun that made him a criminal, it's the choice to be a criminal.

    The vast majority of people who buy guns for legal purposes stay legal. i.e. myself and the other 90 million of us. If we could convince the rest of the non-criminal population to become gun owners, that percentage you're worried about, whatever it is, will drop way down.

    And conversely, taking guns away from people like me won't make the percentage go down (it will go up) or make anyone safer.

  11. Little Steve said, "But if 10% were true that would be somwhere around 9 million criminal gun owners.

    Actually I never said that. I say the 10% are guys who shouldn't have guns in the first place for various reasons, addictions, depression, rage, etc., etc.

    I never said they were 9 million criminals.

    They're also the ones, by the way, who supply the criminals with their guns. That gun flow certainly doesn't come from you responsible types, but all those guns are coming from somewhere.

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