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Guns and Crime: What the Statistics Really Say and How They're Interpreted in the Debate


"It is going to continue to be violent. In the mean time, at least give me the chance to protect my life."


The reason the recent gun control debate is even occurring is because of crimes committed with firearms. There are those who believe that increased regulation on guns might prevent some crimes and fatalities. Others believe just the opposite -- that fewer crimes, or at least fatalities, would result if more people were armed.

But what is the truth about the use of firearms in crimes? What types of crimes are they used to help commit? How often do fatalities result? How often are crimes prevented because of the presence a gun?

There is no shortage of data to answer these questions. But what this data says means different things to different people.

Take Burke Strunsky, the senior district attorney specializing in homicide cases in Riverside County, California. His perspective is, the more guns there are available, the more likely homicides and suicides are going to occur because of them.

"What we do know is we have more guns in circulation than ever before in our history. You know you look at that number compared to U.S. gun violence's 20 times more than other advanced, industrial countries have," Strunsky said. "To say that's not related to the proliferation of guns, I think that's just disingenuous."

Then there's the perspective of Steve Siebold, author of "Sex, Politics and Religion: How Delusional Thinking is Destroying America."

"I don't think violence will go away. That's just delusional thinking," Siebold said.

"A lot of stats go back and forth," he continued later in a phone interview with TheBlaze. But, when it comes to guns, they are "a proven deterrent."


The stats

Not only are the statistics interpreted to defend different conclusions, but there are a lot of different sources collecting the information related to firearm use in crimes.

Here's a look at just a few:

Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (2009):

  • 22 percent of all violent crimes were committed by an offender wielding a weapon -- gun, knife or other object.
  • 8 percent involved a firearm.
  • 28 percent of crimes committed using a firearm were robberies, 5 percent were "simple/aggravated assault" and less than 0.5 percent were rapes or aggravated assaults. To compare, 8 percent of sexual crimes committed with a weapon used knives. In simple/aggravated assaults, knives had an equal percentage of use compared to firearms -- 5 percent -- and "other" weapons comprised 7 percent.

What does this survey say about firearms used in violent crimes historically? In 1992, handguns accounted for 13 percent of all violent crimes. This shows that between 1992 and 2009, the use of firearms to commit violent crimes dropped.

FBI Violent Crime in the United States (2011):

  • 67.7 percent of all murders, 41.3 percent of robberies and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults were conducted with guns.
  • More than 128,900 cases of robbery involved firearms, compared to 24,300 with knives and more than 27,000 with other weapons. More than 130,000 cases were "strong arms."
  • More than 137,200 cases of aggravated assault involved firearms, while more than 126,800 involved knives, more than 222,100 involved "other " weapons and more than 154,100 "hands, fists, feet, etc."

Strunsky points out though that much of the data regarding guns and crime is based on voluntary reporting. To Strunsky, surveys have the potential to be limited by small sample sizes that are then expounded upon to make assumptions about trends representing the whole country. This is why he believes the most reliable numbers come from homicide data.

So here's some homicide data from the FBI from the more than 12,600 murders that were committed in 2011:

  • 67.8 percent of murders committed involved firearms.
  • 72.5 percent of these were committed using a handgun.

Looking at the last four years of this data though, one can see that the number of murders caused by firearm use has dropped.

What about people defending themselves with a firearm resulting in a homicide on the part of the attacker?

The FBI reported 8,775 homicides as a result of firearms in 2010. Of these, 665 were reported as "justifiable homicides" -- those where self-defence was enacted and resulted in the death of another -- 387 by law enforcement and 278 by private citizens.

"Had they not had access to a gun, most murders, most suicides, would not have been a fatal incident," Burke said, including that a life-time prison sentence might not be issue sans a firearm as well.

Then there is Siebold's viewpoint.

"It is going to continue to be violent. In the mean time, at least give me the chance to protect my life," he said.

 The perspectives

Where do these stats bring us in the current gun control debate? Contrary to what many pro-Second Amendment advocates might think, Burke said, gun control is "not the first step to disarm the population."

To Burke, stepping up gun control with background checks, like those that were shot down in the Senate recently, would have been "no more of an imposition than the TSA line." He said he believes those seeing it as the first step to disarmament do not truly understand the Second Amendment.

"We just need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," he said.

"The ability of a criminal to get their hands on guns is directly related to the proliferation and number of guns we have," Burke said. "Sure, they'll get guns. Let's not make it easy though."

But Burke also acknowledged that many firearm owners never purchased the weapon with the intent of committing a crime.

"The reality is, most people don't leave their house that morning and say I'm going to commit a murder," he said, noting an argument or being under the influence of another substance are often escalating factors toward gun use.

Still, Burke said these situations, absent a gun in the first place, would be less likely to lead to a murder and a hefty prison sentence.

The gun control debate to Siebold is clouded by emotion.

Siebold said that because "the government can't be there to protect us," the right of the people to bear arms must be protected.

Burke acknowledges there are other measures to reduce violent crimes, at least homicides. He, like many others, think a more holistic approach needs to be taken. He said exposure to violence in childhood greatly increases the likelihood of someone committing a violent crime in their teenage or adult years.

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