On The Percentage Of Illegal Guns Used In Crimes

Earlier today, or perhaps very late yesterday, Ashley in Alaska asked for a link to an unattributed statement.

I had posted that, speaking of homicides and quoting myself by necessity:

Of those, surveys suggest about six percent or 760 of those (gun related homicides) will have been committed with guns legally purchased “over the counter at a gun shop.” The other 94 percent involve stolen guns in the hands of individuals who cannot legally purchase or possess a firearm.

The words in parentheses were added for clarity. I have often used the same basic data, developed when the homicide rate was very much higher, in this expanded form. “Only about six percent of gun related homicides and a very small percentage of other gun related crimes are committed with a lawfully purchased gun in the hands of its lawful owner.” Which calls for a bit of “defining the terms.”

To begin with, you can pass all the laws you please, but you will never make it rain. A gun is a tool of man, a machine, and while people may be barred from owning or possessing guns, an “illegal gun” is a null concept. Legalities bind people with machines, not the machines themselves.

In the United States, a gun in the hands of person who has been convicted of a felony punishable by more than one year in prison is an “illegal gun” because the felon may not purchase, possess, or even legally touch a gun. A person who has been accused of domestic abuse is also disbarred under the “Lautenberg Amendment.” And to keep the definitions and distinctions from running to infinity – an illegal gun is a gun in the possession of someone who cannot legally possess a firearm.

That applies to the aforementioned felons, wife-beaters, and other criminals just as much as it does to the disarmed but law abiding citizens of the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and of the PR Kalifornistan. Whose State or local governments consider law abiding taxpayers to be criminals who must be disarmed so they can be safely preyed upon.

With definitions out of the way, who commits gun related crime, anyway? Well, criminals. Everyone who reads the fish wrappers is well aware that virtually ever arrest to hit the news has some sort of afterword to the effect that “Police said the 42 year old accused, Mercury Morris Jones, has an arrest record dating to 1987.” Amended as required by the arrestees details, of course.

The case of the model for the above quote is instructive. “Jones” was born in 1970, named after a popular sports figure, and after an extensive career as a juvenile delinquent, was arrested for mistakenly “breaking and entering an occupied dwelling” – home invasion – at the age of 17. His rap sheet shows six convictions, with 21 years of the intervening 25 spent in prison, with most of the remainder spent in a county jail awaiting trial. Obviously, “Jones” never gave himself a chance to be the second quarterback in the NFL to bear the illustrious name he has disgraced. Or much of anything else other than a parasite infesting society.

What did “Jones” do for a living during his few months of freedom? He did what virtually all career criminals do when they hit the street. They hit the ground running and within hours or days are back at their same old criminal specialty. If armed robbery or another gun crime was their money maker their first step will be to get a gun. Department of Justice surveys indicate persons like “Jones” commit one “serious” crime every 48 hours during their brief periods of freedom.

"FIrearms Possession By Offenders"

“FIrearms Possession By Offenders”

Murder is unprofitable, and a bit too serious for the moment. Rape is another poorly paid criminal activity. Those crimes tend to be turf grabs and strongarm recreational activity. Setting aside murder and forcible rape for the time being, and turning to the crime tables in the 2011 FBI Uniform Crime Report.

For this post we are interested in those violent crimes in which a gun is fired during the crime or displayed as a show of force. A criminal committing a property crime may very well carry a gun. In fact, prison surveys show about one “Badd Dude” in four or five out to do work at their career carries a gun. (click on the graphic for a clearer view.) But carrying a gun and using a gun while committing a crime are not the same thing. (As possessing a “clean and legal” gun for self defense and a “street gun” to facilitate crime is not the same thing.)

Quoting the FBI UCR linked above, the (slightly reformatted for clarity) overview of robbery tells us:


In 2011, there were an estimated 354,396 robberies nationwide.

The 2011 estimated number of robberies decreased 4.0 percent from the 2010 estimate and 20.8 percent from the 2007 estimate.

When compared with the 2010 rate, the 2011 estimated robbery rate of 113.7 per 100,000 inhabitants showed a decrease of 4.7 percent.

Robberies accounted for an estimated $409 million in losses in 2011.

The average dollar value of property stolen per reported robbery was $1,153.

Banks experienced the highest average dollar loss at $4,704 per offense.

Among the robberies for which the UCR Program received weapon information in 2011, strong-arm tactics were used in 42.3 percent, firearms were used in 41.3 percent, and knives and cutting instruments were used in 7.8 percent of robberies.

Other dangerous weapons were used in 8.7 percent of robberies in 2011.

With the caveat that these numbers are those reported to the FBI and are slightly lower than reality, we now know there were about 146,365 gun related robberies in the United States during 2011. The Wright Rossi Report and later offender studies have found that a first time armed robber has 2.9 felony convictions when they committed their first gun related crime; and a typical criminal who makes their living by armed robbery is “out” for 59 days and commits 32 crimes during that period.

That makes it a reasonably safe assumption, based on the data we have, to assume that almost all armed robberies are committed by persons who cannot lawfully possess a firearm. Prison surveys say 98 percent, independent surveys say 97 percent, and my friends on various “forces” say 100 percent. One thing is certain; choirboys and girls who stick up quick stops usually make page one, and I don’t see many of those.

41.3 percent of 354,396 is 146,365, as closely as the margin of error in the data will allow. 98 percent of that would be about 143,440 robberies committed with “illegal guns.” Leaving just 2,925 committed with “legal guns.”

Repeating the process with the FBI numbers for aggravated assault, we have 21.2 percent of 751,131 or 159,240 gun related aggravated assaults.

Given the practice of adding aggravated assault to a grab bag of indictments that number is dubious. But almost all those so indicted are convicted felons so 159,240 it is.

So far we are up to 306,605 gun related crimes, and of those prison studies suggest about 295,000 were committed by persons who cannot legally touch a gun. While the DOJ study quoted above is 15 years old, indications are that if there has been a change, there are fewer gun toting first time offenders.

Turning to forcible rape, and suppressing the urge to call for instant castration of offenders upon conviction, the FBI UCR this linked page reports 83,425 forcible rapes reported, but NO weapons data!

A 2009 Department of Justice study found firearms were rarely used in sexual assault, pegging the total at 0.0 percent. Other studies suggest up to five percent of rapists facilitate their crime with a firearm, and most of those are repeat offenders. Accordingly, I will arbitrarily assign 4200 cases to the illegal guns total, bringing us to 309,805 violent crimes, with 306,880 of those “crimes with illegal guns.”

And that leaves homicide. The FBI UCR for 2011 notes that 67.7 percent of the 12,664, or 8,574 murder victims to our gun related crime count, for a total of 8,577 gun related murders.

That brings us to a total of 318,382 gun related crimes, with 306,880 of those crimes less than murder. So what percentage of gun related murders are committed with legally purchased and possessed guns? Turning again to the 2011 UCR, there were 14,548 homicide victims. Both conventional wisdom, DOJ studies, and academic surveys peg the percentage of gun related murders by persons who are not disqualified from firearms ownership at six percent, most of whom are family members of the victim.

Turning to Table 10 of the UCR’s expanded homicide data gives us the total of ‘family members’ murdered by a family member.

Since the source table is only a click away, I will omit details. Adding the column across to “acquaintance,” a total of 1,752 murder victims were family members. Unfortunately, the Uniform Crime Report does not give further details.

Table 8 of the UCR tells us there were 8,583 gun related murders in 2011.

Criminologists, conventional wisdom, and the police tell us that about 72% of murder victims were killed by a partner or rival in some criminal enterprise. If that is correct 6,180 gun related murder victims were either rivals or partners in some criminal enterprise. And we can safely assume that both killer and victim cannot legally own a gun. Which leaves 2403 murder victims who may or may not not have been the victim of an “illegal gun.”

The total of gun related crimes is therefore 326,965 gun related crimes. Of those, at least 313,060 were committed by a person who could not legally touch a gun. So, by our definition of “illegal” and using the 2011 FBI Crime report database, at least 95.7 percent of gun related crimes were committed by criminals with illegal guns.

Bottom line? The percentage of illegal guns used in crime is about 95.7 percent; compared to 4.3 percent of “legal” guns uses illegally.

And I will have much more on this and related subjects in later posts. At the moment my guests would like to see their host.


About Stranger

Extranos Alley is a Collaborate effort to provide up to information on the relationship between restrictive gun laws and violent crime; as well as other related topics. While emphasis is on United States gun laws and crime, we also provide data on crime trends world wide.
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