Per Capita Firearms vs Murder Rates in the U.S. 1950 – 2014

By Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona – -(Ammoland.com)- While various pundits and scholars have claimed that more guns equal more murders, the raw numbers reveal that to be untrue.  The graph above plots the per capita firearms rate in the United States (stated as number of firearms per 10 people) against the murder rate as tabulated in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR).  The UCR includes both murder and non-negligent homicide in the murder numbers.  The UCR murder rate is per 100,000 people in the United States.

The murder rate may be one of the most reliable numbers in the UCR, because murders are more likely to be reported than any other crime.  There is a body, and usually an investigation.  Other crime numbers are less certain. I have not found numbers for the UCR murder rate from 1945 to 1950, but a source, “Violence in America”, by Gurr, states that the rate was fairly steady at about 5.8 per 100,000 in the 40s. The numbers could be measured from the next graph, but it would involve some measurement error. If the 45-49 numbers become available, I will use them in an updated chart.

Using the 65 years of data on the chart, the calculated correlation coefficient is a negative .1274, showing essentially no correlation.

The per capita firearms rate builds on work done by Newton and Zimring, then Gary Kleck. From 1950 to 1987, the data was taken from “Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America” by Gary Kleck, Table 2.1.

The methodology used by Newton and Zimring, and then Kleck,was applied to the figures obtained from the ATF for later years.  The number shown is the cumulative addition of domestic manufacture plus imports minus exports.  This does not count guns shipped to the U.S. military.  Per capita numbers are calculated using the population figures from the U.S. Census.

There was as similar rise and fall in murder rates from about 1900 to 1958.  Initial rates are not as clear nationally in the early years.  Reporting was spotty before 1905.   5 murders per 100,000 range seems reasonable for the start. Then the rate rises to 9.7 in 1933.  The rate then starts the long decline to a minimum of 4.0 in 1958.

During that period, the per capita firearms were likely well below the .35 level calculated for 1945 by Newton and Zimring.  Those numbers are not available by year, so we cannot calculate a correlation coefficient.  If we could, it is clear that the results be similar to those from 1950 to 2014.  That is a large rise and a large fall in the murder rate, against a steadily rising per capita number of firearms.  Newton and Zimring calculated an increase of 47 million firearms added to the private stock from 1900 to 1945.

This reinforces the finding that the per capita number of firearms has little to do with the murder rate.

However, the number of firearms routinely carried for self defense might have an inverse relationship with the murder rate.

One intriguing note about the fall of the homicide rate from 1933 to 1958 is the high percentage of justifiable homicides that occurred at about the same time as the peak of 1933.

I am aware of two studies that separated out homicide motives during this period.  Those were noted in Violence in America, by Gurr.  The first study was done on Detroit data, by Boudouris.  Gurr writes that both studies showed high percentages of justified homicides, but does not state the numbers.

Boudouris found that Detroit from 1926 – 1934 had the highest homicide rate in the country. He found that the largest percentage of those homicides were non-criminal or justifiable homicides by police officers or private citizens.

The second study was on homicides in Chicago.  It found similar results.   From Violence in America:

An analysis of 883 homicides in Chicago for the years 1926-1927 showed a similar pattern. Like Detroit, a large percentage of homicides during this period were justifiable.

Shootings in 1926-1933 may have been more deadly, due to lack of antibiotics and advanced surgery techniques.

These studies were independent of FBI statistics and did not use the extremely restricted and arcane Uniform Crime Report definition of a justified homicide.

The recent rise in justified homicides along with the increase in concealed carry permits and legal doctrines such as “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” has been noted in several places. These reforms coincide well with the drop in the murder rate from 1991 to 2014.  Shall issue concealed carry reform started in 1987, and has continued through the entire 1991 – 2014 period, with the bulk of the reforms occurring after 1993.  This is the same period with the sustained drop in the murder rate.

The FBI UCR only catches about 10 to 20 percent of justified homicides, as confirmed by several studies.

The temporal match of the drop in murder rate with a spottily reported rise in justifiable homicides coincides well with John Lott's thesis of “More Guns, Less Crime“.

While intriguing, the poor reporting and recording of justifiable homicide numbers makes statistical analysis difficult.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

Link to Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 20
    Leave a Reply

    Please Login to comment
    12 Comment threads
    8 Thread replies
    0 Followers
     
    Most reacted comment
    Hottest comment thread
    16 Comment authors
    Gliderguyrc brianMikejCurtisRoger WByron Recent comment authors
      Subscribe  
    Notify of
    rc brian
    Guest
    rc brian

    Some thoughts from a liberal Montana hunter. I do not take knives or hammers to go hunt elk, nor do I try to run them down with my pick-up; the AR 15 as specifically commissioned by the military so that just about any novice would kill someone at 500 yards, whereas the world record hammer throw(without regard for accuracy is about 94 yards. David Hammer “The Great Throwdini” set the fasted knife throw record with his 10 knives at 6 feet with his target girl Tina Nagy–the site does not say how often TGT hires a new target girl. I… Read more »

    Gliderguy
    Guest
    Gliderguy

    This article did not compare the lethality of hammers vs rifles – it was about more guns means less crime. You need to organize – and condense – your thoughts.

    Roger W
    Guest
    Roger W

    Any chance of redoing that graph using per HOUSEHOLD instead per CAPITA?

    Byron
    Guest
    Byron

    Interesting fact that the liberal media never talks about. My data comes from the FBI data bank which can be found on the internet. Half of all murders in the United States are committed by blacks. Blacks only make up 12% of the population. Most of these homicides are committed by black males. So doing the math one can deduct the 6% of the US population commits close to 50% of the murders in the United States. But the liberal press wants to talk about outlawing the gun and not the person that pulls the trigger. In addition 54% of… Read more »

    Cullen
    Guest
    Cullen

    Total distortion of facts. Leave out the number of guns shipped to the military during WWII? Yeah, well, almost every able-bodied American male was IN the military at the time. Second, “justifiable” homicide by police and civilians in Chicago and Detroit just means any killing of a black person by a white person. Those mostly wouldn’t be “justifiable” by today’s standards. Nice try, though.

    VE Veteran - Old Man's Club
    Guest
    VE Veteran - Old Man's Club

    Bottom line is that criminals will ALWAYS find a way to get their hands on a weapon of some sort to further their nefarious ends. Gun Control won’t stop the criminal, they just skirt it one way or another. The issue lies in the human heart.

    Nate
    Guest
    Nate

    Appreciate the analysis and agree you make an excellent case. However ever Im curious of a few things in my attempt to be somewhere in the middle of the gun control debate. In order to inform myself further, have you written on any data relating to how deadly the individual gun violence crimes have become in correlation with the progressed gun technology, high capacity rounds, and access to high and higher capacity rounds using per capita data points? I agree when someone wants to murder they will murder. A gun is no more a means to kill then a hammer.… Read more »

    Nate
    Guest
    Nate

    Another point to consider is that this article lacks the comparisons bewteen America and other countries. To view the data only in America paints only a fraction of the overall picture. Americas gun violence rates, homicide and suicide are much higher than other comparable nations. Whats the difference? Amount of guns per capita. So yes while data only within America shows no correlation to an increasing an gun violence rate we still have more gun violence than comparable countries due to saturation of guns and accessibility. If the article lives in a vacuum its correct, when the issue is viewed… Read more »

    Wild Bill
    Guest
    Wild Bill

    @Nate, here is a point to consider… it is not up to you to decide what hunters, self defenders, and any other firearms users need. Comparisons between America and other countries is irrelevant. America and Americans are not like other countries or people. What are ” high capacity rounds”? As to “…individual gun violence crimes…” there is no such thing as a gun violence crime. There is only violent crime. The phrase ” gun violence” was invented by Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda in preparation for disarming the German people. Scatter guns are more effective at close range,… Read more »

    Oldvet
    Guest
    Oldvet

    @nate…As I have said before try comparing America to Japan for murders by knife , Even London now .
    Presenting a argument by cherry picking statistics is a well know liberal tactic. Just as changing the definition of a word to be what you want to be . Now you will notice that assault vans are killing more people in Toronto than the little puke in Florida .

    Wild Bill
    Guest
    Wild Bill

    @OV, Yes! Sixteen hit and nine died in Toronto today. I suppose nat would conclude that high capacity assault vans are not needed by families and small businesses. But how does Canadian internal combustion engine violence compare with assault motor vehicles in Etthingili Alifushi Atoll? Otherwise we would have only a fraction of the whole picture.
    When nat lives in a vacuum he correct, when his masters let him out he FAR less accurate.

    MikejCurtis
    Guest
    MikejCurtis

    Well, you know, you can’t really compare American internal engine murders with Canadian internal mass murders because in the U.S. you can just walk into a store and buy something you can walk around with and easily and selectively kill 30 people before reloading. Why the heck would any American person who happened to get mad enough to decide to mass murder, bother with a vehicle. That’s silly man.

    Clayton E. Cramer
    Guest
    Clayton E. Cramer

    Concerning defects in FBI justifiable homicides numbers: See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2705913

    Abstract:
    As part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports system, the FBI gathers and reports both civilian and police officer justifiable homicide statistics. The methods by which these numbers are gathered make them gross undercounts of the actual legal, defensive homicides by citizens. Furthermore, comparing the civilian justifiable homicide numbers to criminal homicides for public policy cost/benefit analysis understates the crime reducing effects of civilian gun ownership.

    Clayton E. Cramer
    Guest
    Clayton E. Cramer

    “From 1950 to 1987, the data was taken from “Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America” by Gary Kleck, Table 2.1.”

    Where does the post-1987 data come from?

    Adam
    Guest
    Adam

    From the article:

    “The methodology used by Newton and Zimring, and then Kleck, was applied to the figures obtained from the ATF for later years. The number shown is the cumulative addition of domestic manufacture plus imports minus exports. This does not count guns shipped to the U.S. military.”

    Eric_CA
    Guest
    Eric_CA

    More guns, less crime by John Lott is a good read.

    PMN
    Guest
    PMN

    Interesting. Abortion became legal in 1973. Then murder begins to drop precipitously about two decades later.

    Clayton E. Cramer
    Guest
    Clayton E. Cramer

    Donohue (who is fiercely antigun) claims the fall is because black men were the aborted. Lott pointds to holes in Donohue’s work.

    Marty
    Guest
    Marty

    Gun control freaks will of course outright deny this. They cannot admit to this, and since it takes a moment of thinking to understand they can simply dismiss it and their minions will agree because they said to, NOT because there is any factual basis to consider. I like adding to the gun related homicide stats with other stats such as deaths from falls – ladders, stairs, etc, – 11,000 per year. Then there is the almighty automobile death stats – in one of the most government-regulated machines in the US, 30,000-35000 people are killed each year, despite expensive safety… Read more »

    john
    Guest
    john

    Try to tell that to Bloomberg and his stupid minnions