Rifles and Pistols

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Published : August 10th, 2019
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Category : Editorials

Today, we will continue to collect some interesting facts about gun ownership and firearm homicide in the United States. It is a very different picture than what you get from the mainstream media.

August 4, 2019: Some Facts About Gun Ownership In The United States

Blacks and Hispanics commit homicide at rates far higher than non-Hispanic Whites. This has apparently became a political issue; during the Obama Administration, statistics on the “race of offender” were scrubbed from the Bureau of Justice Statistics data. Here is how it looked up to 2008:

Here we see that Blacks committed 52.5% of homicides, despite being only 12.6% of the population. Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites are not broken out here.

In 2008, the offending rate for blacks (24.7 per 100,000) was seven times higher than for whites (3.4). We can nevertheless be happy that the rate of homicide for both Blacks and Whites have come down considerably since 1990. Note that offender and victimization rates are pretty similar.

Here are some statistics for victimization rates, which include Hispanic and non-Hispanic Whites:

As we can see, the rates for Hispanics are much higher than non-Hispanic Whites. But, this rate has come down in recent years, so that Hispanics are becoming more and more like non-Hispanics. For the most part, homicide patterns stay within racial boundaries: blacks kill other blacks, and whites kill other whites.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation provides some detailed homicide statistics, available here:

Hispanic blacks account for 2.5% of all Hispanics. Thus, we will assume that all Hispanics are White. We will also assume that the ratio of “unknown” offences are the same as offences where the race is known. From this we get:

Thus, we find that the estimated (offender) homicide rate among non-Hispanic Whites is 2.1, which is higher than Canada (1.8) or Britain (1.2), but not a lot higher. It is less than all of Europe (3.0), and also all of Asia (2.9). It is much lower than Mexico, which has very strict gun control laws, and, reportedly, only one gun store in the whole country.

Homicide rates are very high throughout Latin America:

We can at least be happy that the homicide rate for Hispanics in the U.S. (5.5) is lower than almost all of Latin America (average 16.3).

Homicide involved firearms in 72.6% of instances.

Where the type of firearm was known, it was a handgun in 91.3% of instances, a rifle in 5.2% of instances, and a shotgun in 3.4% of instances. Firearm homicide overwhelmingly involves handguns. So why all the focus on rifles? From this, if we take the percent of homicides from firearms (72.6%) and multiply by the percent of rifles and shotguns (8.6%), we find that an estimated 6.2% of homicides involve rifles and shotguns.

Statistics on what percentage of homicides (and other crimes involving firearms) are committed using illegally-obtained firearms is somewhat murky. However, the estimates show that perhaps 90% or more of firearms used in crime are illegally-owned. In this 2016 survey of prison inmates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 90% of prisoners who possesed a gun during their offense (this is not the same as using a gun; only possession) said that their firearms were illegally obtained. A 2016 survey in Philadelphia found that firearms were illegally obtained in 80% of cases; a survey in Chicago found that only 3% of criminals who used a firearm purchased it legally.

So, to summarize, we find that homicide in the U.S. has a strong racial component. Thankfully, homicide rates have been coming down among all Americans in recent decades, which deserves at least a little bit of celebration.

About 90% of homicides involving firearms involve pistols; perhaps about 90% of these pistols are illegally obtained. From this alone, we can see that, although there are hundreds of millions of legally-owned rifles and shotguns, held by the 43% of U.S. households that own legal firearms, legally-owned rifles and shotguns account for perhaps only about 1% of homicides involving firearms; and perhaps less than 1% of all homicides. I think this is a rather amazing display of law-abiding responsibility, among tens of millions of Americans. This compares with 4.6% of homicides ascribed to hands, fists and feet. And perhaps these legally-owned rifles and shotguns really do help to reduce the incidence of gun-related crime, as many claim.

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Nathan Lewis was formerly the chief international economist of a firm that provided investment research for institutions. He now works for an asset management company based in New York. Lewis has written for the Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, Pravda, and other publications. He has appeared on financial television in the United States, Japan, and the Middle East.
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