Fact Sheet: Gun Ownership and Homicide

GVPedia University

  • There were 14,415 firearm homicides in the US in 2016
  • Firearms make violent crime more lethal
  • The US has significantly higher rates of homicide than other developed nations
  • High gun ownership states have significantly higher firearm and overall homicide rates
  • The presence of firearms increases the non-stranger homicide rate, but not the stranger homicide rate
  • Police officers are at greater danger of homicide in states with higher gun ownership


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Compared to other developed countries, the United States does not have higher levels of overall violence –rates of car theft, burglary, robbery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, and adolescent fighting are comparable to other industrialized nations.  However, when violence does happen in the United States, it is much more likely to be lethal than in comparable nations.  For instance, firearm homicide for children aged 5 to 14 years is thirteen times higher than in comparable nations, while overall homicide is three times higher.

The best available evidence suggests that higher levels of gun ownership are associated with higher levels of violent crime.

A 2015 publication from researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University examined the relationship between state-level household firearm ownership and various forms of violent crime.  Using data form 2001, 2002, and 2004, the paper concluded that higher levels of gun ownership were associated with statistically significant increases in firearm assault, firearm robbery, firearm homicide, and overall homicide.  Specifically, states with the highest gun-ownership levels (Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Arizona, West Virginia, North Dakota, Idaho, Mississippi, and Alabama) had 6.8 times the rate of firearm assaults, 2.8 times the rate of firearm homicides, and 2.0 times the rate of overall homicides than states with the lowest gun-ownership levels.  This study confirms findings from a host of earlier studies showing higher levels of household gun ownership are associated with higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide.

A 2014 meta-analysis of 16 studies found that a firearm in the home doubles the risk of overall homicide (and triples the risk of suicide).

While homicides by strangers do happen (such as the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas), the academic literature reveals that the most significant risk of firearm homicide comes from acquaintances, friends, romantic partners, and family. A 2014 study found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership do not see higher rates in stranger homicide.  Instead, widespread gun ownership increases the likelihood of being killed by someone you already know – specifically a 1 percent increase in gun ownership corresponds with a .9 increase in murders between non-strangers.

A 2015 publication examined homicide rates of law enforcement officers from 1996 to 2010.  The paper found law enforcement officers are three times more likely to get murdered in high-gun states than in low-gun states after controlling for a variety of factors.


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