Guest Post by William M Briggs: Firearm Homicides Dropping

I am permitted even when it is not a Friday to post articles written by others, as here, where Mr Briggs has prevailed upon all men of good will to come to the aid of their country. Having trampled the freedom of religion of the Roman Catholic Church, with insolent unconstitutional tyranny, our masters seek to do the same to the NRA. Two of the Bill of Rights down, eight to go. Welcome to my world, gunowners! We are all Catholics now. All the words that follow are Mr Brigg’s.

Firearm Homicides Dropping. Assault Weapons Ban Not Correlated With Decrease In Homicides. No Need For New Restrictions.

I rarely ask this, but please link, forward, email, and favorite this post as widely as possible. See below for copying permission.

Murder in the United States1 is illegal, and has been for over two hundred years. Strong penalties, up to and including the penalty of death, are incurred by those who commit this heinous crime.

Yet, strangely, despite murder’s high illegality, there were in 2011 over 12,000 of them committed! The largest number of murders were in 1991, with nearly 25,000 of these frowned-upon unlawful incidents.

It is difficult to imagine a penalty more severe than death, so it remains a curiosity that so many murderers are found when such strong laws are in place. Perhaps this scourge can be eliminated by even tougher laws?, say death by torture? Or maybe by creating Executive Orders bypassing the hindrance of Congress and Constitutional safeguards? We must protect the children!

But never mind. Let’s instead look at the number of murders and what devices were used in their commission.

This (Fig. 1), according to the FBI2 and the United States Census, is the per-capita murder and non-negligent manslaughter (hereafter, in a slight abuse of notation, just called “homicide”) percentage from 1960 to 2011 (data for 2012 were not yet available). Overlaid are the same percentages for just those bodies accumulated from deaths by any type of firearm.

Figure 1

The first notable is that the two rates track closely, so that whatever is driving changes in the one is likely (but not certainly) driving changes in the other. The second remarkable feature is the abrupt increase in the turbulent 1960s, and the subsequent decline as the people responsible for these cultural excesses began to enter their 50s and 60s, and even to die off in the 2000s and 2010s. The percent in 2011 was the lowest on record.

I want to repeat that: The homicide rate in 2011 was the lowest on record since 1960.

And that’s true for all homicides committed with firearms of any type; that is, the lowest number of homicides by firearm was in 2011—although I only could find data from 1975-2011.

Let’s repeat that, too: the lowest number of homicides by firearm was in 2011.

Is your first reaction panic? Deep concern? Do you feel in your gut the need to do something? Then I suggest switching to a decaffeinated brand.

Now let’s look at the shaded region on the plot, which is the time the Orwellian-named “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act”, i.e. “‘Assault’3 Weapons Ban”, was in force, from 13 September 1994 until the same date in 2004. There does not appear to be much correlation between this ban and the homicide rate: homicides both decrease and increase during the time which it was in force.

If you think there might be a correlation, then look at this plot (Fig. 2), which is the homicide rate for handguns, separated from other firearms4, knifes, blunt objects, and other instruments, which is a catchall including poisonings, strangulations, drownings, and similar forms of mayhem.

Figure 2

Each of these series exhibit the same pattern as the overall homicide rate. You may say the “assault” weapons ban lowered the rate of homicides committed with firearms, but then you have to explain why poisonings, strangulations and the like similarly decreased. It is of course possible that would-be murderers, feeling deprived of their loss of frightening-looking “assault” weapons were so forlorn that they lost the heart to add cyanide in their enemies’ tea, but it’s more likely that whatever was responsible for the general decrease in bloodlust caused both the decrease in firearm and non-firearm homicides.

Another possibility is that the number of shootings and other forms of violence remained constant, or even increased in recent years, but that people once wounded, because of improvements in medical science, are not dying at higher rates. This necessarily would decrease the homicide rate for the simple reason that if a person survives a shooting, he cannot be considered murdered. But this explanation is not plausible given that violent crimes (which includes attempted murder) are also on the wane, as shown here (Fig. 3).

Figure 3

There is some evidence that medical science might be the cause of some of the decreased homicide rate from this next plot (Fig. 4), which shows the percentage of homicides of all violent crimes: from a high of 3% to now around 1%. But since violent crimes as a whole are dropping, it is even more plausible that people are just becoming less bloody minded; i.e., less in the need of government control and regulation.

Figure 4

What should be particularly clear from the Figure 2 are two things: (1) homicides by any type are decreasing, and (2) handguns, and not “assault” rifles or indeed any other type of firearm, are always the most-used weapon. This plot (Fig. 5) emphasizes the significant role of handguns

Figure 5

This is a conditional plot, showing the percent handguns and other firearms are used in homicides. Notice that the percent of homicides committed with non-handguns actually increased during the life of the “assault” weapons ban. Handguns hover around 50%, a little more than 3 times as prevalent as non-handguns. If there are calls to ban anything, one would therefore guess it would be handguns which are demonized, not rifles and shotguns. Alas, the mind of the politician is a difficult thing to grasp.

Now let’s look at the same plot again (Fig. 6), this time including all types of killing methods:

Figure 6

The two rivals, equaling or exceeding in lethal importance to “assault” weapons (and other non-handguns), are knives and other types of weapons, such as poisons, strangulations, and fire. Yet we never hear even rumors of politicians wishing to ban fire. Though we do hear, all too often, of impaired officials banning children for pointing their fingers.

Summary: to use a phrase coined by Father Z, the “biological solution” appears to be lowering homicide rates quite well, with no government intervention required (or desired).

Now for the punchline. None of the statistics presented here are new or unknown. They are available to every politician, and indeed every lawmaker with the word “ban” on his lips knows them well (otherwise they are incompetent). Each of these people, like you now, knows that limiting “assault” weapons will do little to change the homicide rate. Yet still they want to ban. Why?

Could it be—this is reasonable to ask—that they have a different agenda in mind? Did we not hear many elected officials (from both major parties) tell us that guns are “only for hunting”, and did not some call for the confiscation of all guns? I suspect that this is the sole reason for the current flurry, the drive to “never let a crisis go to waste”: to strip citizens of their guns. Not all at once, for that would lead to rebellion, but slowly, incrementally, a death through many small paper(work)cuts.

Addendum The number of mass public shooting incidents per decade have also been decreasing and are uncorrelated with gun ownership. Full details about Fig. 7 are here.

Figure 7

Update Comparisons of the enormous, socially and racially heterogeneous United States with small, relatively more homogeneous European countries are not persuasive. “Denmark has lower gun violence!” somebody will proudly say, forgetting that Denmark on crowded day has only three-fourths the population of New York City.



1Murder has not always been illegal everywhere. For example, citizens who were deemed “counter-revolutionary” or “anti-government” were routinely slaughtered, quite legally, in countries with international and national socialist governments. These countries, perhaps entirely coincidentally, banned their citizens from owning most or all firearms. I define murder as unlawful under the law given to us by a Higher Authority.

2Here is the data, which was compiled from several government sources, such as here, here, here, here, and here. Multiply Population by 1000. The data is not 100% certain. I found, on the FBI’s own site, different numbers for homicides for the same years. The discrepancies were never more than a couple of hundred coffins, but this still indicates imperfection. And that means we should lessen the certainty we have in any conclusions we draw from this data.5 If anybody out there can find mistakes or additions to this spreadsheet, please do so by amending it and emailing it back to me at [email protected] I will then (at some point) redo and create a new post.

The FBI says murder and non-negligent manslaughter are:

the willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another. Deaths caused by negligence, attempts to kill, assaults to kill, suicides, and accidental deaths are excluded. The program classifies justifiable homicides separately…Deaths of persons due to their own negligence, accidental deaths not resulting from gross negligence, and traffic fatalities are not included…

The murders on “September 11th” are not included in these charts, but the Oklahoma City bombings are.

3It has been said that an “assault” weapon is that which looks frightening to a lawmaker. Given the increase in non-manly politicians—by which I mean folks unable to appreciate a John Wayne movie—more and more weapons will be so categorized.

4A 2009 Attorney General report from California showed that fully automatic weapons, like “machine” guns, are used in 1% of crimes in that state. How could this be? Aren’t these guns illegal everywhere? If it’s one thing you can count on, it’s that a criminal has no respect for the law.

5Footnote to the footnote! Firearm laws vary across state and, within states, across time and across regions. The federal government, jealous of the power of the states, enacts its own laws, which also change through time and by region. The laws everywhere vary in strength, too. Further, citizens move from one state to another, or they move within a state to areas which have different laws. The compositions of the folks living in these great United States has also changed radically since 1960. Therefore, any statistical analysis—usually some high falutin regression model—which purports to have figured out the true influence of firearms regulations will be full of—what our esteemed Veep Joe “Wakka Wakka” Biden called—malarkey.

One thing we can say with certainty: threats to increase restrictions on firearms increase the sales of firearms: heres one example of many.

William M. Briggs, the “Statistician to the Stars!” is, and has been for many years, a proud NRA member. He received no consideration of any kind from anybody for this post.

Permission is granted to copy and reprint this post, under the proviso that my name and a link to my site accompanies it.


  1. Comment by Nate Winchester:

    Welcome to my world, gunowners! We are all Catholics now.

    Well to be fair, a lot of gunowners have long thought of themselves as “catholic now” and are willing to fight for religious and speech freedom. I think some bitterness comes from the fact that with the recent tragedies, quite a few Catholics seemed to have turned against the gunowners.

    We all need to remember that if we don’t hang together, we’ll end up hanging separately. Freedom now, freedom forever.

  2. Comment by fabulous_mrs_f:

    It’s the rhetoric, “How dare you put your rights over the lives of children! You sound like an abortion advocate now!” Ouch, but I’ve seen it posted. For Catholics (or other Christians) who do not feel strongly on gun rights, it’s enough to silence them.
    The right to own and bear arms cannot be see in isolation of our right to free speech and our right to worship as we please, and our other rights. The same measures and same mindset that will take away our 2nd amendment rights will find a reason to slowly take away our other rights.

  3. Comment by CPE Gaebler:

    “Now let’s look at the shaded region on the plot, which is the time the Orwellian-named “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act”, i.e. “‘Assault’3 Weapons Ban”, was in force, from 13 September 1994 until the same date in 2004. There does not appear to be much correlation between this ban and the homicide rate: homicides both decrease and increase during the time which it was in force.”

    Uhhh… what? In the plot beforehand, both homicides and firearm homicides have almost a 2-fold drop. This quote only makes sense in the context of the later plot, showing that “assault” weapon homicides did not decrease in that time.

  4. Comment by WMBriggs:

    CPE G.

    (I posted the same comment at my place.)

    You explained it yourself. The first point in the yellow cannot effectively be explained by the “assault” weapons ban; as such, the decrease was present before the ban. And it is a simple statistical fact that after the decrease, there came a slight increase. Call it, if you like, if your eyesight fails to register the signal, a leveling off. How my calling this plot a lack of correlation can be a “falsehood” with the ban is a mystery, particularly considering Fig. 5, which is not redundant and which is a different kind of plot (one is unconditional, one is conditional). And don’t forget Fig. 4.

    The ban might have any number of effects, but would your “pro-gun-restriction friends” ascribe the decrease in all kinds of violent crime, including drownings, poisonings and the like, to that ban? Well, they might. But what then accounted for the decrease in violence from 1980 to 1985-ish? People thinking there might someday be a ban and therefore, with those thoughts in mind, behaving nicely?

    I’m afraid we have lost those who think the government, and only the government, can control and shape a society, people whom I’m guessing include your “pro-gun-restriction friends.” I still have hope that the rest of us who think that family, the Church, and other voluntary memberships will be able to stave off the worst excesses of the State.


    Thanks very much for the repost. I owe you one.

  5. Comment by meunke:


    John, you may want to take this post down. If you don’t, Mark Shea may see it and freak out, telling everyone that you are engaging in “eager passivity” and probably not caring about children for not wanting demand various gun bans right now.

  6. Comment by paradox33:

    I want to understand the Catholic position. I know the Pope is in favor of the UN’s small weapons treaty, which could outlaw firearms in the US. However, my question is what if the Pope required all US Catholics to turn in their firearms or face excommunication? Is this something a Pope would have authority to do?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Are you asking a serious question? Perhaps you should ask what would happen if the Pope ordered all men to shave off the left half of their beards, paint themselves blue with woad, and talk in funny high pitched voices on Tuesdays.

      The Pope has authority over matters of morals and Church discipline, and areas where Church teaching is unclear. Despite what you may have heard, he does not have absolute power like a secular ruler. He can only pass along what his predecessors have handed to him to teach. He does not get to make stuff up.

      • Comment by paradox33:

        Just wanting to know any information I can on the Catholic Church. I’ve been tempted to go to RCIA for about 5 years. I’ve spent lost of time reading Peter Kreeft’s commentary on the Catholic Catechism, “Catholic Christianity”.

        I’m interested if the Holy Father could claim that firearm ownership is morally wrong? So my understanding now is that no he can not, due to the Constitution and the Second Amendment is in the secular realm.

    • Comment by DaveSomething:

      Troll in the dungeon!

      • Comment by paradox33:

        Not at all. Too bad Internet discourse has been polluted by trolling. It causes everyone to be set on the default ‘troll’ at any post. Sheesh… I’ll go back to Catholic Answers, to ask questions.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          The problem is that the question shows a remarkable degree of impertinence, and, forgive me, ignorance.

          And I did answer it.

          The Pope does not make laws. His authority is that of a servant. He passes along only what was given him by his predecessors. He cannot add new sins to the Ten Commandments in the fashion that the United States can add new Amendments to the Constitution. He does not establish orthodoxy: that is done by synods and councils.

          The Holy Father certainly does not have the authority (or the chutzpah) to begin issuing detailed legal edicts or ukase for how citizens in various nations should behave in matters that fall clearly under the secular authority which St Paul tells us to obey as we obey God.

          The reason why DaveSomthing thinks you are a troll is that no one with access to the Internet, giving you all the electronic libraries in the world at your fingertips, would ask such a question of a science fiction writer.

    • Comment by Fr. Terry Donahue, CC:


      The list of excommunicable offenses in the Catholic Church is narrow, well-defined, and completely excludes the situation you describe.

      Regarding the potential effects of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, you may want to consider Snopes’ research and conclusions.

      • Comment by paradox33:

        This is interesting. Vatican Welcomes Obama Gun Control Proposa. If I understand correctly this is just an opinion (an incorrect one at that) of the Vatican, not a moral proclamation.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Forgive my cynicism, but do you actually, honestly expect the far-Left-wing Huffington Post to either understand or to report correctly the nuances of anything the Vatican says? I would not stir a pinky to click through the link or read what Mordor has to say about the realms of light.

          The last four or five stories I saw in the news about Catholic Church pronouncements in the Leftstream Media were so garbled and misleading that it was like listening to small children attempting to discuss Law Review opinions about some technical legal topic, like Contributory Negligence or the Rule Against Perpetuities.

          Leftism and Christianity are mutually exclusive and irreconcilably hostile. A Christian can understand a Leftist by looking at the envy, rage and hypocrisy in our own hearts, but a Leftist cannot understand a Christian.

          The act of inventing excuses to cover one’s sins requires one’s brain is issue squid-ink to hide the basic nature of life, man, and justice from oneself, and that ink clouds the judgment and creates neurotic disturbances, areas where thoughts dare not venture. Sin makes one stupid.

          No matter how bright a Leftist is on any neutral matter, once he starts talking on any topic where he is loyal to the “unreality principle”, he is stupid. The Unreality Principle is the principle that reality is less important than loyalty to the ideal. The more obvious a truth is, the more politically meritorious it is to deny it and to blank it out of thought and memory.

  7. Comment by John Hutchins:

    One of the main statistically significant reasons for the drop in violent crimes is Roe v. Wade; take the homicide rate and tack on the twenty year lagged abortion rate and see what you get. As has researchers, such as Levitt who purposed the link, have pointed out the drop in violent crime and homicide in no way justifies the abortions; even if one values a fetus at a very small fraction of a life the trade off doesn’t make sense.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      One of the main statistically significant reasons for the drop in violent crimes is Roe v. Wade

      Infanticide lowers the violent crime rate? How, praytell, do the abortionists know twenty years beforehand which babies will commit violent crimes. By their skin color? By their social rank?

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        If one runs the numbers it works out that way as pointed out here, as he points out elsewhere there are something like 1000 abortions or more per prevented murder. I don’t know that anyone thought of abortions as cutting crime rates before hand, at least not openly. I know that some of the major proponents of abortion were focused on eugenics previously and pushed abortions by skin color and social rank and, if you read the Levitt paper, abortions are higher among the poor and black which does lead to a higher impact on crime rates then otherwise. His paper is from 2001, meaning he was just running the numbers.

        Basically it has been shown that if one slaughters millions of babies, with a disproportionate number being non-white and poor, then one can then prevent a few hundred murders.

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          Oh, and while this may be true in absolute numeric figures it is not true on the cohort level and actually appears to be false on the cohort level; also the findings in general have been challenged. On the cohort level it appears that abortion has actually somewhat worsened outcomes rather then improved them, contrary to what the original paper contended.

      • Comment by Steve Wilson:

        Just passing by to point out this article convincingly linking crime rates to lead pollution …

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