Sometime close to May 7, 2017, half a million Americans will have been shot to death since 9/11, and there’s no sign of the death rate abating. So it’s a fine time to consider who exactly is dead, who will die next, and what would really make a difference. Does the NRA solution work? Are fatalities falling? Who is killing whom? How well does self defense work? Can gun control reduce fatalities and suicide? Do more guns mean less crime? How many illegal guns are there? How much do taxpayers pay for gun violence? What new solutions could reduce the casualties?

Civilians killed and injured by firearms since 9/11
Civilians killed and injured by firearms since 9/11

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The Report

It is time for some fresh ideas, starting with caring about the killed.

Yet while sharing work on this topic over the last three years, >3,000 dispassionately or even vehemently asserted that I deliberately falsify facts; that the government numbers are intentionally wrong; and that rights to kill supersede rights to life, without any concern for the dead at all. One finds oneself wondering why otherwise good people are so desensitized to avoidable deaths.

Most 2nd–amendment advocates are also increasingly insistent on a ubiquitous right to kill by everyone everywhere, with escalating vehemence to any interference. Is their hostility hiding rising guilt? Strangely, no, there is no guilt whatsoever about dead innocents, friends, and family. That I will address in another report. First, here are the most ignored and denied facts about the dead, and some consideration of various new solutions.

Cumulative firearm fatalities since 9/11
Cumulative firearm fatalities since 9/11

The NRA Solution: Incarcerate all Felons

“Take every felon with a gun, drug dealer with a gun and criminal gangbanger with a gun off the streets tomorrow and lock them up for five years or more.” —NRA News[118], “How to Stop Violent Crime,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre (2016).

The NRA's only actual solution to reducing firearm casualties is to imprison all felons for at least five years. But locking upallfelons is hardly realistic. The next graph shows available data on convicted felons, from theBureau of Justice Statistics[23].

The NRA Solution: Lock up all felons for 5 years or more
The NRA Solution: Lock up all felons for 5 years or more

The NRA has already blocked public records on who actually owns a gun, because it asserts that knowing who owns guns infringes on civil liberties[133]. So to please the NRA, we’ll have to jail all of them. That’s at least 7.18 million to satisfy the NRA’s 5-year minimum—more than tripling the largest prison population in world history of 2.29 million (Lee, 2015[86]).

Even putting that minor technicality aside, the NRA proposal would make virtually no difference whatsoever to the number being killed by firearms anyway. Let's assume we do lock up exactly those “felons, drug dealers, and criminal gangbangers” who would otherwise kill, as the NRA condemns them as the only problem worth considering. For 2017, that would prevent deaths in the order of 1,061 from gangs, 796 from all robbery and theft, 322 from narcotics crime, and 838 from other crime. That’s 3,017 saved, or 8.7% of the total 34,824 fatalities. Sadly, according to federal data on recidivism, ~50% relapse into crime no matter how long they’re locked up (Markman et al, 2016[92]). Let's hope half the recidivists whom the NRA reluctantly frees learn not to shoot someone, and commit another crime instead. That reduces fatalities by ¾ of 8.7%—A grand total of 6.5% of all those killed with guns. Even counting out the 272 expected civilian acts of self defense, it’s still less than 7%. In 2017, the NRA’s solution of locking all the bad guys with guns for five years would save 1 in 14. Do the other 93% just have to die?

Annual Casualties are Rising

“Since 1991, when violent crime hit an all-time high, the nation’s violent crime rate and its murder rate have decreased by more than half.” —NRA-ILA[117], “More Guns, Less Crime” (2016).

Many gun-rights advocates are fond of focusing on homicide because it is decreasing, albeit still 8 times higher than other high-income nations (Grinshteyn & Hemenway, 2016[54]).But all other forms of firearm casualties are increasing, including the total fatalities. This plot displays the top-level categories of fatalities.

Firearm casualty trends
Firearm casualty trends

Rising casualties explain the tension between most all gun-rights advocacies now, and those wanting to save lives. The gun lobby groups ignore the rising deaths, claiming the right to self defense vetoes any possible acts to save preventable deaths.

Note:Gun-rights advocates disputed this graph too, claiming that apparent increases are actually decreases after population growth is taken into account, and that libertarian data sources exaggerate the facts. But all numbers here are growth and age-adjusted when applicable. All casualty numbers are from theCenter for Disease Control (CDC[29]), except for criminal and justified homicides, which are from theDepartment of Justice (DoJ[48]). The CDC reports on medical opinions whether causes are ‘violent,’ but in the USA, we are innocent until proven guilty. So FBI data is used when available for homicide. The difference between FBI fatality and CDC non-suicidal fatality is therefore reported as involuntary manslaughter, or ‘accidents.’ Rates are stated for 2016, after adjusting for anticipated population growth. Projections also account for variances around the 0.87% population growth rate.

Even with conservative estimation, total firearm fatalities are still rising at 0.3%. Firearm injuries are also rising, at 1%, and assault injuries are also rising at a faster rate than total firearm injuries, at 1.3%. And while firearm homicides are falling at 3.8%, they are falling slower than all homicides (4.1%). The following charts show the trend.

Main causes of firearm fatalities, 2005-2024
Main causes of firearm fatalities, 2005-2024

Anonymous Thieves are not the Main Culprits

“No amount of bloodshed will ever satisfy the demons among us. These cowards dream of inflicting more damage, more suffering, more terror. No target is too intimate or too sacred for these monsters. They will come to where we worship, where we educate and where we live. But when evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power no other people on the planet share: The full-throated right to defend our families and ourselves with our Second Amendment.” —NRA News[119], “Demons at our Door,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre (2016).

Only 5% of all homicides are by strangers during theft or robbery. Most homicides are by family, friends, and acquaintances during brawls due to quarrels, disputes over property and money, and narcotics. The following chart plots the decadal history and prediction for eight cause and three kinship groups. It shows how brawls between family and friends are double that of all other causes. The homicide rate is falling because brawls with friends and strangers are falling rapidly. But family brawls are flat. In 2018, family brawls will exceed brawls between friends as the main cause of homicide. And deaths due to family crime are rising.

Firearm homicide by cause and relationship
Firearm homicide by cause and relationship

In 2010, the FBI reported 43.6% of all homicides were people killing people they know; 12.4% were strangers; and the remaining 44% were uncertain[48]. But the FBI reported onallhomicides, not just homicides with firearms. Strangers are more likely to kill with firearms, and other weapons were used in 24.1% of all homicides in the last 10 years of known data. This report therefore implements the most conservative data model possible, estimating the unknowns from historical trends to provide more data, and accounting for lower non-firearm homicides by family (seeWeapon choice andthe data tables).

Homicide by cause and kinship, 2017 projection
Homicide by cause and kinship, 2017 projection

The results still indicate family, boyfriends, and girlfriends kill more with guns than anonymous home invaders. For 2017, 7,417 total homicides are projected, but only 444 of them are by stealing strangers—compared to a total of 1,878 by intimates, and 3,706 others known to the victim.

So according to best available data, Americans now shoot to death 4.7 times more family and partners than are killed by anonymous thieves, and each passing year, the ratio grows. The ‘enemy at our door’ that the NRA tells us to kill is mostly those we are meant to love. Who is the NRA terrorizing us into shooting, exactly? How does killing our family defend our family?

The following graph shows how separate categories of firearm homicide are changing. Brawls are the most common cause overall, but are falling fastest. Gangs are a favorite target of gun-rights activists, but now account for only 3.0% of total firearm fatalities. As of 2017, less than half of gang victims are strangers (529) compared to victims known to the killer (558). For 2017, 7.2% of total firearm fatalities are found to be due to brawls, more than twice killed by gangs.

Trends in causes of firearm homicide
Trends in causes of firearm homicide

Out of the lower number of gun homicides caused by crime, all forms theft and burglary are 2.1% of all fatalities. Drug crime has been the most prevalent cause, but is only 0.9% of total fatalities in 2017, and is falling so rapidly, there will be almost no drug crime in 2023 at current rates. Homicides from other crimes, such as arson, have been rare, but are rising faster than mass shootings, to be 2.4% of all fatalities in 2017.

Mass shootings, which are well known to be rising, often involve family too. Out of 133 mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015, the shooter killed a spouse, former spouse, intimate partner, or other family member in 57% of the cases; and in >21 incidents, the shooter had a prior domestic violence charge(Everytown for Gun Safety, 2016[46]).

The following graph shows known victims are killed during crime the most, but the rate is falling rapidly, at -3.8%. Homicides by strangers are falling most rapidly, at -5%. Family homicides due to crime are low, but the only rising group, at 3.9%. Family homicides due to brawls and other non-felonious causes are falling slowest at 2.2%. Family brawls already overtook homicides by strangers in 2008. Even with the conservative estimate of family homicides used by this report, by 2024 family crime will kill more than strangers do in crime.

Trends in relationship of victim in firearm homicide
Trends in relationship of victim in firearm homicide

Gun Owners Harm themselves more than Thieves

“Everyone from President Obama to Mayor Bloomberg's 'Demand a Plan' campaign will shamelessly exploit the stories of children who are killed in tragic but isolated incidents.”—NRA News[121], “Domestic Violence,” Billy Johnson.

The data so far is only the start of the risk a gun is to the owner and household. Even attempts at self defense are more dangerous to a gun owner than a criminal. This report finds, out of all fatalities resulting from attempts at self defense, 70.8% are accidental killings of gun owners, family and friends, rather than of any assailant.

The NRA states “firearms are involved in a very small percentage of accidental deaths, among children and adults alike”[114]. However, the NRA furnishes no proof, and the link on the page to a claimedFirearm Safety Accident Statisticspage on the NRAILA site has returned ‘page not found’ errors since last year[115]. And it is true, in 2015 children are reported to have shot only 265 unintentionally, killing themselves 41 times and other people 42 times (Ingraham, 2015[71]). However other numbers are significantly larger.Gun Violence Archivecounted 3,184 deaths and injuries from ‘self defense’ and ‘accidents’[57]. It gathers data from events reported in the news, and its figures for 'home invasion' include both cases of crime and domestic violence, prior to adjudication (of known cases of domestic disputes, most frequent are angry men attacking wives or ex-girlfriends, but in many cases the attacker does not reveal the exact nature of the relationship). The last section illustrated that at least a third of so-called home invasions are almost certainly due to domestic violence (possibly as many as 4 out of 5 cases). But it remains unclear what accidents are happening how often. So here is some more analysis on these most unfortunate deaths.

First, combining CDC with FBI data shows 3,584 involuntary deaths in 2014, compared to only 1,237 by criminals during robbery, theft, arson, and other crime. Involuntary firearm deaths are thus triple those caused by the criminals which the NRA solely condemns as the blamable culprits. The below left chart illustrates the trend.

Trends in firearm accidents
Trends in firearm accidents

Second, involuntary manslaughter has been increasing in ratio compared to homicides, from <30% in 2005 to 45% in 2017, as shown in the above right chart. It finds accidents during attempted self defense will become a more frequent cause of firearm death than all robbery and theft in 2018.

For deeper analysis, the journalistic investigation byDavid Waldman (2016[142]) provided detailed synopses of accidents reported in American newspapers over seven days. For the 44 detailed events in that one week of 2015, the circumstances of 12 events were unclear, but 6 are known to be accidental killings due to attempts at self defense. Two of those deaths occurred when owners were putting a gun by their beds before sleep. Out of the 3,327 acts of involuntary manslaughter projected for 2015 from available data, that ratio for the one analyzed week indicates 624 were incidents where gun owners killed themselves, their family, or friends while taking steps to defend themselves.

Compared to the 624 killings from mistakes in attempted self defense, there are 257 cases of justified self defense projected for that year. So from all available data, the above facts predict gun owners kill by mistake 624 times for 257 successful acts of self defense. That is, gun owners are killing themselves, family and friends 2.43 times more often than actually defending themselves successfully (seeTable 1).

Table 1. Ratio of Failed to Successful Self Defense
Accidents documented in 1 week of 201544
Known caused by accidents during attempts at self defense6
Probability due to attempted self defense in surveyed cases0.188
Total involuntary manslaughter, 20153,326
Total accidents from self defense, 2015624
Total justified self defense, 2015257
Ratio accidents to success is self defense2.43

The following chart extrapolates lethal accidents caused by attempts at self defense, compared to successful justified self-defense homicides and to homicides caused by all forms of robbery and theft. From the best available data, accidents during attempted self defense will overtake all robbery and theft as a homicide cause in 2018.

Trends in mistakes due to attempted self defense
Trends in mistakes due to attempted self defense

Corroboration. There are numerous other independent studies demonstrating firearm dangers:

  • A meta-analysis of 16 studies finds a gun in the home triples risk of suicide and doubles the risk of homicide (Anglemyer et al, 2014[6]). A gun is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in the home than a threatening intruder (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2015[84]).
  • In urban areas, individuals with a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault. If the victim had some chance to resist, the likelihood of being shot for those in possession of a gun increases to 5.5 times (Branas et al, 2009[16]).
  • Home residents with a gun in the home are twice as likely to die from a homicide in the home, and 30x more likely to die of suicide, regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home (Wintemute, 2004[147]). Living in a home where guns are kept increases an individual's risk of death by homicide by 40~170% (Wintemute, 2008[148]).
  • Guns in the home are used far more to frighten intimates than to thwart crime, and other weapons are far more used against intruders (Azrael and Hemenway, 2000[9],[10]). Most criminals are shot when they are victims of robberies, assaults and crossfires, and virtually none report being wounded by a 'law-abiding citizen' (May et al, 2000[94]). Adolescents are far more threatened with guns than they use them in self-defense (Hemenway and Miller, 2004[67]).
  • Those with a gun in the home are 2.7 times more likely to die of homicide (Kellerman et al, 1993[76]). For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides (Kellerman et al, 1998[77]). Using a gun in self-defense won’t reduce the chance of being injured during a crime any more than other protective actions (Hemenway, 2007[63]).

The Kleck Dispute. With continuing peer corroboration of Kellerman’s 1993 finding of gun dangers in the home, the NRA responded by funding ONE study in 1999 byKleck and Hogan[79], which remains the only public study saying the above 14 are wrong. It claims to debunk all others, and it's still frequently repeated by gun advocates as 'proof' they are right. However:

  • Kleck's phone survey oversampled states with more guns, included gun uses to shoot pets and birds, did not distinguish civilian from military or police uses, and the phone survey only included the oldest male in the household, frequently called back late at night when intoxicated or drugged (Virginia Center for Public Safety, 2016[41]).
  • Kleck claimed the survey proves that 'no carry laws' endanger people, but there is no statistical correlation between gun carrying in public and reduction in crime (Webster and Ludwig, 2000[144]).
  • Over a third of all killed during acts reported as self defense were actually known to the shooter, making them acts of domestic violence rather than protection against an invader (Violence Policy Center, 2015[140]).
  • Kleck claims that Kellerman uses a statistical method developed for disease research, which therefore does not apply to firearm fatalities. It is true the statistical method was originally developed to determine how many people have a disease. There is no justification for the claim that the method does not work for guns, and Kleck’s assertion is so absurd, no scientific journal even bothered publishing a reply.

Most Firearm Fatalities are not Justified

Justified homicides are a small proportion, not included in other homicide counts by the FBI or in any of the other data and charts in this report.

In 2017, justified civilian acts of self-defense are projected to kill 272, with 489 additional justified police homicides, compared to 34,851 total deaths. The number of those killed by civilians in self-defense killings is also rising, from 0.62% of all firearm fatalities in 2005 to a projected 1.1% in 2024. Police incidents are increasing too, but at a lower rate.

Gun Control Reduces Fatalities

“The only way for us to stay free was by having whatever guns the bad guys have. This firearm gives average people the advantage they so desperately need and deserve to protect their life, liberty, and happiness.” —NRA News[120], Dom Raso, “The Ar-15: Americans’ Best Defense against Terror and Crime” (16 June, 2016).

Those wanting minimal restrictions on gun sales claim gun control is pointless, because criminals will just use other weapons. Let’s put aside that such a view altogether negates the need for guns anyway. Most fatalities are not caused by crime, but by personal disputes. Two thirds of fatalities are people killing people they know with guns. With other weapons, family and friends kill far less. The following graph is from DoJ data (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005[21] & 2007[22]).

On the one hand, family and loved ones are less likely to kill with guns than friends and strangers. On the other hand, when guns are used in domestic violence, death results 10~20 times more frequently. Perhaps this is due to more frequent proximity and misplaced trust. If ‘protecting life’ is the primary concern, the safest option for home residents in doubt of their personal safety is not to keep guns in the home, and to ensure their partners and other family do not have guns in their homes either.

Fatality of weapon in assaults by family, friend, and strangers
Fatality of weapon in assaults by family, friend, and strangers

The DoJ data shows attacks on victims who are strangers are fatal with a firearm on 75.7% of occasions, but non-fatal on only 10.4% of occasions. However in domestic violence, firearms kill on up to 62.6% of occasions, but only injure other family on as few as 0.9% of occasions, depending on the relationship. Keeping guns out of domestic violence is the single most significant way to reduce firearm fatality.

Not only are guns much more likely to result in fatality than other weapons, but also guns are a catalytic effect in violence. Lethality is only one factor: the three most important areavailability, immediacy, and lethality. First, a firearm must be available. If one is available, then it matters whether it is loaded and easy to access. If it takes some time to prepare the gun, then the aggressor has time to reconsider and calm down, and the victim has time to flee. But if a weapon is loaded and easily accessible, then firearms are extremely likely to result in a lethal outcome.

Corroboration. Other studies support this finding, but are slightly less conservative in statements.

  • Domestic-violence assaults with a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those with other weapons or bodily force (Saltzman et al, 1992[125];Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2014[83]). In combined murder-suicide incidents, 280 of 313 (89.5%) involved a firearm (Violence Policy Center, 2012[139]). A Philadelphia study put fatalities from firearms at 71.8%, stabbing at 9.6%, and others at 18.6% (Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, 2009[122]).
  • Between 1976 and 2005, a third of female murder victims were killed by a spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend. More than two-thirds of victims were killed by firearms. Guns killed 56% of girlfriend victims (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007[22]). Of all firearm homicides, 51% result from domestic, family, or child abuse, and <10% from gang-related incidents (Alberty, 2014[3]).News21provides an interactive chart showing state likelihood of gun violence. In Connecticut, 7 out of 10 were killed with guns by an intimate partner in domestic violence and not criminals they did not know (Morris and Griner, 2014[110]).
  • Some claim there is a greater amount of gun-violence crime than from domestic abuse in inner cities, so the above state data is inapplicable. However, an inner-city study put homicides from domestic abuse and familicide at 76%; and it found most gun homicides by younger men killing women whom they know (Dabby et al, 2013[40]).

Gun Control Reduces Suicide

“If the issue is firearms, the first question to be addressed is "Do firearms cause suicide?" If firearms do not cause suicide but are merely implements utilized to accomplish the act, implements for which others would be substituted if firearms were not available, then it can be said fairly that the use of firearms in suicide is not relevant to the debate over firearm laws, rules and regulations.”—NRA-ILA[116], “Suicide and Firearms”(1999).

The cause of suicide—depression and similar—derive from social attitudes to the self and value of life. Social causes vary considerably between different nations, and over spans of decades.

Japan is often cited to prove gun control does not reduce suicide, because suicide rates there have not declined since its firearm ban in 1971. But Japan has a long history of actually admiring suicide, dating back to theseppuku(stomach cutting) of shamed samurai a thousand years ago. In the 1960s-1980s, most suicides in Japan were by college students with inadequate grades. Now the largest suicide problem in Japan is by young professionals who are failing in the workplace (Wingfield-Hayes, 2015[146]).

Other countries do not have so many guns, so controlling gun access has had less impact in them. In Europe, hanging was found to be the most frequent means of suicide (49.5%), followed by poisoning by drugs (12.7%), jumping (9.5%), firearms (7.6%), poisoning by other means (5.1%), jumping or lying before moving object (5.0%), drowning (4.2%), and other methods (6.3%). As guns are only chosen 7.3% of the time, gun control has had little effect on the suicide rate (Varnik et al, 2008[138]).

In the USA, guns are chosen far more frequently, as the following graphs indicate. Total suicide rates in the USA are similar to other developed nations (Grinshteyn & Hemenway, 2016[54]), but firearm suicides are eight times more frequent and increasing. From CDC suicide data, firearm lethality in the USA is 86%, the method of choice on half of all occasions, and twice as likely to be used as the next most frequent method. The following charts show trends in likelihood of success and frequency of method.

Trends in suicide success likelihood and frequency of attempts by method
Trends in suicide success likelihood and frequency of attempts by method

Corroboration. Other studies in the USA find suicides 20x-30x more likely in the presence of a gun, and 2-3x more likely to succeed with a gun than by other methods:

  1. Gun-control legislation in the United States significantly reduces suicide (Lambert and Silva, 1998[81]). Restricting access to common means of suicide, such as firearms, toxic gas, pesticides and other, has been shown to be effective in reducing rates of death in suicide. (Sarchiapone, 2011[128]). The availability of a gun contributes to half of all successful suicide attempts, and is lethal on 99 out of 100 attempts, whereas other methods of suicide are far more likely to fail(Lurie, 2015[91]). The presence of a gun doubles the likelihood of a suicide attempt, and the immediacy of gun availability increases the likelihood of a choice to commit suicide (Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health[60]). A dozen prior studies show the increased risk of successful suicide caused by the presence of a firearm (Miller and Hemenway, 2001[105]). The presence of a gun increases the likelihood of suicide by a factor of 30, and the presence of a gun doubles the likelihood of homicide (Dahlberg et al, 2004[41]). The presence of a firearm in the home triples risk of suicide and doubles risk of homicide (Anglemyer et al, 2014[5]). Firearms availability increases risk of suicide, firearm lethality increases suicide success, and impulsivity makes suicide more likely in the presence of a firearm (Brady Campaign, 2015[15]).
  2. Handgun purchasers have an elevated risk for suicide for up to 6 years after the purchase in the USA (Brent and Bridge, 2013[17]). English prisoners are eight times more likely to commit suicide after release (Cruz, 2015[38]). A Swedish study found a nine-fold increase after release (Haglund et al, 2013[59]).

More Guns, No Less Crime

“As gun ownership has risen to an all-time high, the nation’s total violent crime rate has fallen to a 44-year low and the murder rate has fallen to an all-time low.”—NRA-ILA[117], “More Guns, Less Crime” (2016).

Claims continue that more guns reduce deaths, often erroneously quoting “More Guns, Less Crime” (Lott, 1998[87];Lott & Mustard, 2005[90]) because of confusions between crime, homicide, and total firearm fatalities. And it is true, even though total firearm fatalities continue to grow, homicides are dropping worldwide…in the USA at a lower rate than in other places, and with 25 times more homicides due to firearms than other industrialized nations (Grinshteyn & Hemenway, 2016[54]). Meanwhile there are now more gun dealers in the USA than Starbucks, McDonalds, and supermarkets put together (Zatat, 2016[150]), and gun sales continue to set records (Rojanasakul & Migliozzi, 2016[124]). So there are definitely more guns.

Unfortunately, facts from neutral parties indicate thatarming citizens has an inconsequential influence on crime rate, while fatalities and injuries due to firearms continue to increase. Five considerations on this topic follow.

Violent incidents with firearms

violent incidents with firearms are rising faster than violent incidents without them. The following graph shows the ratios of incidents with firearms compared to all incidents, for homicides (from the FBI) and violent firearm injuries (from the CDC). Firearms were used in 73% of all violent injuries in 2005, rising to 82% in 2024 at current rates. Similarly, firearms were used in 70% of all homicides in 2005, increasing to 76% in 2024.

Trends in firearm homicide and violent injury compared to similar events without firearms
Trends in firearm homicide and violent injury compared to similar events without firearms

This is an apples-to-apples comparison of firearm incidents with similar events without firearms in the USA. The falling proportion of incidents without firearms is a proper scientific control group. The ratio provides a measure independent of other factors causing changes in the amount of violence, and so the change in ratio can be directly attributed to the increased availability of firearms for violent acts. If Lott’s claim that more guns means less crime were true, the proportion of incidents with guns should be falling, not rising. But both injuries and homicides from violent events with firearms are rising, compared to violent events without firearms. This alone directly disproves the claim of ‘more guns, less crime.’

One in Seven Die from Fatal Accidents

One in seven die from fatal accidents rather than deter crimes. In 2017, 3,383 fatal accidents are expected. Assuming a flat rate of crime since 1990, that means a fatal accident will occur once for every 7.6 deterred property crimes. If the crime rate is falling, then the likelihood of a fatal accident to an owner, family, or friend is even more likely than stopping a crime.

Corroboration.Other research has shown that firearms are about as effective in reducing loss of property as other methods. However there is no evidence that firearms reduce risk of injury during an attempted theft, rape or personal assault, and that firearms are no more effective than other methods (Hemenway, 2015[64]).

Right-to-Carry makes no difference

The best independent study to date also demonstrates right-to-carry (RTC) laws make no difference to crime rates. In 2015,Phillips et al[123]directly refuted Lott's hypothesis that more concealed carry permits reduce crime. In the most complete study to date, they analyzed a decade of data from every county in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas (the only states with at least a decade of reported data on permit holders and arrest rates after the implementation of their RTC laws). An explanation of their methodology is very clearly delineated. Using several statistical models, Phillips found no significant relationship between changes in concealed-carry rates and changes in any crime rate.

Firearms make almost no difference

According to the NRA, guns prevent 2.5 million crimes a year (Martelle, 2015[93]). This number,2.5 million, is the most frequently stated reason to own firearms. On the other hand, according to the Department of Justice, victims in homes defended their property with guns 103,000 times, over a total of 84.495 million reported crimes (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013[24]). That impliesfirearms deter only 0.122% of all property crime. Including acts of domestic violence and other violent crime, firearms still only deter 0.297%, or 338,700 of 114,113,500 incidents.

Table 2. Successful Deterrence with Firearm
Total violent crimes29,618,300
Violent crimes deterred with citizen gun235,700
Total property crimes84,495,500
Property crime prevented by citizen gun103,000
Property crime deterred0.122%
Total Frequency of Deterrence0.297%

The NRA number of 2.5 million is fromGary Kleck(1995[78]).Kleck had claimed the Department of Justice data is deliberately Total violent crimes 29,618,300 understated, because it only includes reported incidents. However, by looking at theproportion of 0.122%, rather than the total number, Kleck’s dispute with the actual number is irrelevant, because it is again an apples-for-apples comparison. One is examining the ratio rather than the total number of events, and the DoJ has no reason to bias the data. Moreover, Kleck himself admitted that 36-64% of defensive gun uses (DGUs) reported in his survey were likely illegal uses to intimidate or harm another person rather than for legitimate self-defense (Smith, 1997[131]). Gun lobbyists have nonetheless not modified or corrected the 2.5-million DGU propaganda.

Corroboration. For a detailed discussion of Kleck’s scientific method, see”the Kleck Dispute”.

  • Kleck's estimate of 2.5 million firearm-related crimes is double that which can be found even in the largest numbers of all crimes reported in Department of Justice data (Cook et al, 1997[35]). Kleck claimed more instances of guns used in burglaries than every single burglary event put together (Hemenway, 1997[62]). Guns used in defensive situations could be as low as 108,000, or 20 times less than stated by Kleck (Cook and Ludwig, 1998[34]). Criminals use guns far more than victims do in self defense, whereas Kleck claims victims defend themselves several thousand times more than criminals use guns (Hemenway et al, 2000[66]). Claims of many millions of guns used in self-defense are invalid; most purported events of self defense result in escalated arguments and increased risk; firearms are used to intimidate more than in self defense; criminals who are shot are often actually victims of another crime; and very few criminals are shot by law-abiding citizens (Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 2009[59]).
  • In 2015,DeFilippis and Hughes[42] reviewed studies byHemenway and Solnick (2015[68]), Cook & Goss (2014[33]), andHemenway et al (2000[66]) that have disproven Lott's theory in the past. See alsoAyres & Donahue (2003[8]).
  • Another study found an estimated 258,460 incidents of firearm defense between 1987 and 1990, with an annual mean of 64,615 (McDowall and Wiersema, 1994[98]). Victims used firearms in 0.18% of all crimes recorded by the survey and in 0.83% of violent offenses. These figures are for all acts of self defense, including both guns in the home and in street crime. This equated to two times out of 1,000 criminal incidents (0.2%) that occurred in this period, including criminal incidents where no guns were involved at all. Of the times that guns were used in self-defense, 71% of the crimes were committed by strangers, with the rest of the incidents evenly divided between offenders that were acquaintances or persons well known to the victim. In 20% of the self-defense incidents, the guns were used by police officers.

Gun Control in other Nations

Homicide fatalities are still dropping at a lower rate than in nations which have banned firearms. In Japan, 22 firearm incidents a year are considered a national disaster (Aleem, 2015[4]). Lott challenges this facts by falsifying data from Australia (Lott, 2012[88]). First, his data considers only male victims, which makes the homicide rate appear much worse than it is. How can one trust a man at all who leaves out half the people in a country to make a point?

But more importantly, Australia’s really significant gun-control legislation was introduced in 1996 (ABC Fact Check, 2013[1]). Lott totally ignores that and only looks at a smaller gun buyback program in 1999. If one includes homicides where women were victims—and one looks at data back before 1996, when legislation was first passed to restrict gun deaths, rather than looking at the results of the smaller buyback program--then Australia's gun control has worked very well (, 2016[55]).

Australia firearm fatality
Australia firearm fatality

Our goal should be the same safety record as Japan and Australia.

Illegal Guns are not the Problem

“Despite the frequent calls for expanded background checks after mass public shootings, there is no evidence that background checks on private transfers of guns would have prevented any of the attacks that have taken place since at least 2000.”—John Lott[89],Crime Prevention Research Center(2 Jan 2016).

It is frequently claimed that gun-control legislation won't save any lives because criminals use illegal guns anyway. Contrary to what most people believe, the vast majority of firearm fatalities are with legal guns, whatever the case as to the number of crimes committed with illegal guns. The confusion arises because of many reports that most guns used in street crimes are illegal (Fabio, 2016[47];Ingraham,2016[72]). There also remains confusion between whether the gun was legally obtained, but a different person used the gun in a homicide. One study indicated there are far less than 30 illegal guns for every 100,000 gun owners in the USA (Sandy Hook Project, 2014[127]). Others indicate that between 3% and 10% of all guns owned by known criminals are illegal (Greenberg, 2015[53];Cook et al, 2015[36];Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013[24];Wright et al, 1994[149]).

It seems most likely the illegal gun challenge to gun control is a hyped urban myth (Gopnik, 2015[51]). But whatever the frequency of illegal guns in crime, the number of murders and injuries are still much lower than for legal guns. This is partly because there are far more incidents of suicide, accidents, and domestic violence than street crime. Yet some continue to object that more regulation will still cause a proliferation of illegal guns. But other nations which have already enacted stricter gun-control measures report even lower illegal gun usage, so the facts just don't bear out the claim.

  1. Japan, which banned guns entirely, has no problem with illegal firearms at all, which is the opposite of what one would expect from those who claim gun control will only cause more illegal guns (Fisher, 2012[49]).
  2. Australia, one of the nations with the strictest gun-control laws, reports only 3% of all gun crime to be with illegal guns (ABC Fact Check, 2016[2]).

Overseas data is more applicable to the conclusions of this study, because its proposals would remove conflict of interest for gun manufacturers and those profiting in the gun sales, thus enabling passage of effective gun control laws that make the percentage of illegal gun violence better than that of the 3% in Australia.

Corroboration. More is known about illegal guns in mass shootings. Early in 2015,Mother Jonesreported that only 20% of mass shootings use illegal guns, with a complete database of their findings (Ehrenfreund and Goldfarb, 2015[44]). This summer, theNew York Timesprovided an interactive interface to look up the history of each gun, stating: “A vast majority of guns used in 16 recent mass shootings, including two guns believed to be used in the Orlando attack, were bought legally and with a federal background check. At least eight gunmen had criminal histories or documented mental health problems that did not prevent them from obtaining their weapons” (Buchanan et al, June 2016[20]). Lobbyists criticized the article for confusing definitions of ‘mass shooting' and 'illegal gun.' TheWashington Postthen published extensive research using the FBI's definitions, stating out of 245 guns used in mass shootings, 140 were obtained legally and 39 illegally (Berkowitz et al, 2016[14]).

Taxpayer Cost

Taxpayers Pay more for Gun Violence than the Entire Gun Manufacturing Industry’s Revenue

First, theNational Center for Biotechnology Information(McCollister et al, 2011[97]) compared legal costs from many studies for different kinds of crime. It found legal costs of $8,982,907 per homicide in 2008 dollars. The following table cites it and other high-cost estimates for qualitative assessment, as well as results from prior studies dating back to 1993 (Aos et al, 2001[7];Cohen, 1988[31],Miller, 1993[107];Miller et al, 1998[108]).

Table 3. Homicide Legal Costs (NCBI)
Aoset al, 2001Cohen, 1988Cohenet al, 2004Milleret al, 1993Milleret al, 1996Rajkumar & French, 1997McCollister, 2011
Rape, sexual assault$369,739$97,962$286,277$80,403$124,419-$240,776
Motor Vehicle Theft-$5,006--$5,720$1,723$10,772

Second, concerning direct hospital costs, CDC only has fiscal data for 2010, and only reports direct medical costs (not including out-of-hospital costs and non-medical-related disability payments). Its sum,$45.2 billion/year, includes hospital costs of $187 million for fatalities, $853 million for injuries, and $44 billion for disability payments due to work loss.

Table 4. Firearm Fatality and Injury Cost (CDC)
Average CostTotal Cost
Classification# EventsMedicalWork LossCombinedMedicalWork LossCombined
Legal Intervention344$7,835$1,572,117$1,579,952$2,695,440$540,808,153$543,503,593
Legal Intervention848$19,319$72,373$91,692$16,376,973$61,352,338$77,729,311
Grand Total$1,039,451,111$44,348,616,951$45,388,068,062

TheAmerican Health Associationreported taxpayers pay an additional $1.3 billion for lifetime support of injured gun victims (Tabachnick, 2013[136]).

Particularly because most firearm fatality victims have low incomes, public federal and state taxes pay between 52% and 85% of medical costs (Waters & al, 2011[143];Howell & Abraham, 2013[69]), and due to the high legal costs, virtually all legal expenditures are for federal and state and attorneys.

ThePacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) estimated that the total cost of a single firearm death in 2010 was ~$5.1 million, which included $582,366 in government expenses. That generates a total annual cost of firearm fatalities of $229 billion, which is more than 17 times that of the entire gun-manufacturingindustry's billion annual revenue of $13.1 billion (Miller, 2015[106];Brown, 2013[18];Moore, 2015[107];Children's Safety Network, 2012[30]). While that may seem high, it estimated the taxpayer share to be only $582,366 per fatality, substantially lower than the above studies. The PIRE report estimated fatalities only; it did not include medical, legal, and other expenses from firearm injuries.

Table 5. Firearm Fatality Cost (PIRE)
Total CostsTaxpayer Costs
Work loss$1,600,000-
Lost Tax Revenue-$163,488
Medical Care$28,741$14,311
Mental Health$10,663$5,442
Emergency Transport$544$544
Criminal Justice$395,211$395,211
Insurance Processing$2,361$1,810
Quality of Life$3,100,000-

Combining the above studies provides the estimate of taxpayer cost of gun-fatalities and injuries for 2017 shown in the folloiwing table. This finds a total taxpayer burden of $16 billion, not including successful justified self defense and police action. This figure still exceeds the entire $13.1 billion revenue of the firearm manufacturing industry.

Table 6. Projected Cost of Firearm Violence, 2017
Average# incidentsTotal, 2017
MedicalWork LossTaxpayer costMedicalTaxpayer cost
Fatal accidents$10,041$1,405,782$143,6433,376$33,898,416$484,938,109
Fatal Suicide$3,616$1,084,270$110,79123,232$84,006,912$2,573,889,742
Fatal Homicide$9,519$1,651,151$168,7157,397$70,412,043$1,247,981,964
non-fatal accidents$20,894$82,069$8,3865,956$124,444,664$49,945,887
Non-fatal Suicide$38,906$134,188$13,7114,385$170,602,810$60,124,181
Non-fatal assault$19,777$78,737$8,04527,377$541,434,929$220,257,456
 Taxpayer share of medical(Low 52%, high 85%)68.5%$370,882,926$4,637,137,339
Police costs$2,11971,723$151,981,037
Legal costs$395,21123,232$9,181,541,952
Insurance processing$1,81071,723$129,818,630
emergency transport$54471,723$39,017,312
Grand TotalWith cumulative inflation since 2010 (10.4%):$16,019,458,633

What is the cost per gun? To determine that, one needs to know the number of guns. A conservative estimate of the total number of guns in the USA is 270 million (Sanchez, 2015[126]). Estimates range up to 350 million. The total number of approved background checks has increased from 8,886,240 in 2005 to 20,877,652 in 2014 (FBI[39]), and has been increasing significantly over the last few years. However, this does not really indicate the total number of guns in ownership.

In 2004, a Gallup poll showed 31% of gun owners have only one gun, and 29% have five or more guns (Carlson, 2004[26]), but the number has been increasing. A recent survey of 4,000 adults found that one third of Americans reported owning a gun (Kalesan et al., 2015[75];Ehrenfreund and Goldfarb, 2015[44]).

Another 2015 study, funded by theNational Science Foundation, corroborated the results, specifying that 32% of households own guns, with an average of 8.1 guns (CBS News, 2015[27]; Ingraham, 2015[70]]). These trends indicate 8.2 guns in 33% of households for 2017. With 124.2 million households, that places the annual taxpayer cost at $45 per gun, or $122 for each tax-paying household.

The Gun Tax-Credit Solution

A simple method to reduce gun violence is to maximize happiness from first principles. Jeremy Bentham's theory of utilitarianism takes as its fundamental axiom "It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that is the measure of right and wrong" (Bentham, 1760[13]). However Bentham's ideas didn't reach America until about a century later, when John Stuart Mill wroteUtilitarianism(1860[104]), so the ideas were not included in the original United States constitution. A simple way utilitarianism greatly increases overall happiness is by defining a way people can agree on losing a little bit of freedom, in exchange for a much greater measurable liberty for everyone as the final result. For example, requiring people to drive on the same side of the road means people give up a little freedom, but everyone reaches destinations more quickly and safely. Utilitarianism is particularly effective when there is a definable numeric metric that correlates with increased happiness (which, in the example of traffic lanes, is the resulting higher speed of safe traffic). The taxpayer burden for gun violence is definitely a metric to apply to reduce gun-violence cost, via the following steps:

  1. Some want guns and others don't. A third of American Households now own guns, averaging eight guns each. Those who don't want guns have to pay for expenses arising from gun violence. That results in a net loss of liberty, because those who don't want guns are enslaved to the will of those that do.
  2. So to maximize liberty, those who want guns pay for the expenses of gun violence, AND everyone gets a tax credit from that revenue. The tax credit can even be large enough that everyone can still have one gun AND save money. Then gun liberties are preserved, people who don't want guns are not forced into paying for what they don't want, and people who did not previously own guns can use the tax credit to buy one.So there is no infringement on 2nd-amendment rights.In fact, the tax credit even makes it easier for people to buy guns if they don’t already have one, because the tax credit is more than the extra tax on a single gun.
  3. But at first, people who own guns are not so happy, because they are still paying more for guns, regardless that the tax credit pays for the gun-violence tax too. So they want the gun-violence cost to go down, in order for gun cost to reduce.
  4. Now lawmakers have a reason to agree on reducing gun-violence cost. There is no more fiscal conflict of interest on sensible gun control laws. Everyone works together to make effective legislation. In words of the traffic-law analogy above, everyone is now driving on the same side of the road, towards reducing gun violence.
  5. When gun-violence cost goes down, the gun-violence tax reduces and the tax credit increases, resulting in lower income taxes for everyone, AND cheaper guns as well (and by the way, less people are killed).

With this utilitarian method, the conflicts of interest in enacting effective gun-control laws will end. the following table indicates how gun fees could reduce income taxes. An annual $38 tax per gun could pay for an annual $100 tax credit per tax-paying household. The gun tax pays for the $16 billion in gun violence. When legislature halves the cost of gun violence to taxpayers, the government has an $8 billion profit to distribute as a larger $150 tax credit, and the gun tax can simultaneously fall to $18, as there is less gun-violence cost to pay for.

Table 7. Annual Taxpayer Cost per Gun
Annual taxpayer cost of gun violence$16,019,458,633
Deduction incidents with illegal guns$3,293,891,727
Adjusted taxpayer cost$12,815,566,906
2017 population328,131,072
Average # residents/household2.6
# households124,204,258
Gun Violence Tax Credit$101.55
Percentage Households with guns32%
#guns per household8.2
Gun Violence Tax per Gun$37.53

With this example, the immediate tax credit is three times more than the cost of the gun tax, so people who do not have guns can buy one and still save money. This is a simple illustration of how gun violence could be reduced and taxpayer costs too. Of course many will want fee variations. It is known that long-barreled guns cause only 4% of all casualties (Strier, 2013[135]), so it could make sense to make the gun tax lower for long-barrels, and higher for handguns. Some will also want a multi-gun discount.

Calls for more Data.This information on costs and relative risk is still very scanty, due to long-standing legislation to prevent research on gun violence (Jamieson, 2013[73];Mayors against Illegal Guns,2013[95];National Public Radio, 2015[111][112];Sriram, 2015[132];Brown and Joseph,2015[19]).

Existing and Proposed tax & Insurance Programs. Mandatory insurance programs are easier to start locally, in specific districts where gun violence is particularly prevalent, as a precursor to a more comprehensive national requirement. So a number of such programs are already in process, inChicago (Cook County Government, 2013[37]),Seattle (Beekman, 2015[12]), andLos Angeles (Easterday, 2015[43];Sewell, 2015[129]).

Rep. Nydia Velazquez proposed the H.R. 3830Reducing Gun Violence in our Neighborhoods Act on Oct 25, 2015. It would impose a federal $100 tax on any firearms manufacturer, producer, or importer (Colton, 2015[31]). The proceeds would enter a gun-violence reduction and mental-health counseling trust fund. Rep. Carolyn Maloney proposed theHR2546 National Firearms Risk Protection Act on May 21, 2015. "We require insurance to own a car, but no such requirement exists for guns," Maloney said. "The results are clear: car fatalities have declined by 25 percent in the last decade, but gun fatalities continue to rise” (Wheeler, 2015[145]). Both acts exempt federal, state, and local governments for police or other law-enforcement purposes.

Hillary Clinton has supported a 25% gun tax since 1993 (Aleister, 2015[5]).

Conclusion: Facts to Save Lives

The ideal goal is for America to have the same level of gun violence as other countries which have banned guns entirely, but still let the American people own firearms.

This study has shown that firearm casualties are increasing in all categories besides homicides, and increasing overall. Most homicide victims are not strangers, but known to the killer. Although homicide is falling, the proportion of family victims is increasing. Guns injure their owners, family, and friends more frequently than they stop crime. Guns do not reduce crime in any significant amount, and the number of times guns are used to kill or injure intentionally is increasing as a proportion of all violent assaults. Most guns casualties are suicides, and gun control can reduce suicides. And gun casualties cost taxpayers about $16 billion a year. My simple suggestions, from the above data, are as follows:

  1. Those with history of domestic violence or suicidal tendencies should not be allowed to keep handguns in the home. They could keep rifles at home, and could still keep handguns in lockers at sporting ranges. In fact, it is access to handguns in the home that is the single most lethal factor. Simply keeping a handgun out of the home alone would be a substantial preventive measure.
  2. To counter concerns of privacy in mental health, a secure private system for sharing data between state, federal, and medical authorities is essential.
  3. Mandatory training programs on safe handling of guns would probably save more lives than background checks.
  4. A gun-violence tax credit, together with a mandatory gun-violence tax that is scaled to the taxpayer cost of violence would provide an incentive for cooperation on sensible gun-control legislation, and could save taxpayers hundreds of dollars a year.

Also, it would make sense to do what the British did after World War 2, and provide a way so that people can make old guns they want to keep safe. What the British did was pour liquid lead into the barrels. When it went solid, the guns were unusable. That would be much cheaper than buyback programs.

A practical limitation is the extent of available data on those who have purchased guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has been prohibited from creating a centralized database of gun-sales records already in its possession since 1979. Also, since 1994, another rider has prevented ATF from transferring any of its “functions, missions or activities” to another agency or department, so the FBI cannot use ATF intelligence. Further since 2004, The Tiahrt Amendments only permit NCIS background check data to be kept for 24 hours, and have directly impeded law enforcement’s ability to identify straw purchaser (Stachelberg et al, 2013[133]). There are also numerous state limitations (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2013[82]; Jeltsen, 2014[74]; McGreal, 2015[99]).

If these and other NRA-sponsored measures are not directly challenged, the chart on the right shows the firearm casualties next year—By best data available—At a taxpayer cost significantly greater than the entire revenue of the gun manufacturing industry.

Firearm casulaties in 2017: gun deaths and gun injuries
Firearm casulaties in 2017: gun deaths and gun injuries

Appendix A. Casualty Tables

The columns in the below tables provide the following values:

  • Delta (Δ) – The average change in value each year for the best-fit linear projection.
  • σERR – The standard error of deviation, indicating the range around the best-fit linear trend in which two thirds of the annual sample values are falling.
  • R2 – Thecoefficient of determination, a measure of statistical reliability, between 0 and 1. Higher numbers are better. Values below 0.2 are considered unreliable (and are marked in red in color copies of this document).
  • Rate – The percentage change each year for the best-fit linear projection after adjustment for variance around linear population growth.
  • AGA – The values after reduction to account for annual population growth (0.87% annually after variance compensation around linear mean).

For firearm homicides, FBI data was first aggregated into 8 groups, to improve the R2 factor, as some of the subcategories were extremely small. Unsolved cases and suspected felonies for each year were distributed proportionally into these groups. The FBI does not provide breakout data on weapon choice by victim relationship, so the FBI’s ‘homicide by relationship’ reports were divided into the groups ofweapon choice, and scaled down to the ratio reported to use firearms. The cases where the victim relationship was known but cause unknown were again distributed into the 8 cause groups proportionally, and the relationship data convoluted with cause data to provide 3 kinship subgroups in each of the 8 cause groups. After trying various alternative aggregations, the results below show those statistically providing the best possible estimate of actual numbers in each group across the 10 years of the data set. The full spreadsheet is more than 60 pages long.

For forward projections, it was found the trends are almost perfectly linear over the last decade of known data for larger numbers, so best-fit linear projections were generated after adjusting for annual population growth variance around the average 0.87% population growth.

For a more readable version of the data tables, please download the PDF version at the end of this page.

Table 8 (part one): Projected firearm casualties and injuries, 2015-2024
Table 8 (part one): Projected firearm casualties and injuries, 2015-2024
Table 8 (part two): Projected firearm homicides, 2015-2024
Table 8 (part two): Projected firearm homicides, 2015-2024
Table 9 (part one): Compiled source data: firearm casualties and injuries, 2001-2014
Table 9 (part one): Compiled source data: firearm casualties and injuries, 2001-2014
Table 9 (part two): Compiled source data: non-felonious homicides by kinship and cause, 2001-2014
Table 9 (part two): Compiled source data: non-felonious homicides by kinship and cause, 2001-2014
Table 9 (part three): Compiled source data: felonious homicides by kinship and cause, 2001-2014
Table 9 (part three): Compiled source data: felonious homicides by kinship and cause, 2001-2014

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