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Which Weapons Are Most Commonly Used for Homicides?

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With the renewed push by the federal government for an assault weapons ban, we couldn’t help but wonder, just how often are assault rifles really to blame for crimes? More specifically, how often are they used as murder weapons when compared to all of the other types of weapons available?

Using FBI homicide statistics from the 2019 Crime in the United States report, the insights team at the Joslyn Law Firm charted out how often different types of weapons were used in homicides in the U.S.. Of the 16,425 homicides that occurred in 2019, the FBI was able to collect supplemental data for 13,922 of them, which is what our data is based on. The weapon types are broken down into the different types of firearms: handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a category for homicides in which the type of firearm was unknown. It also compares the number of homicides that were committed by non-firearm weapons such as knives or cutting instruments as well as bodily weapons, which include people’s hands, fists, and feet. Non-firearm weapons were used for one-quarter of all homicides in the United States.

Would a ban on assault rifles actually help to curb the violence? With rifles being a relatively uncommon type of weapon used in homicides in the United States, an assault rifle ban may not make much difference when it comes to the number of murders that occur. Homicides are overwhelmingly committed using handguns; they were found to be the most common murder weapon for nearly half of all homicides in the United States in 2019. Even hands, fists, and feet are used to commit homicide almost twice as often as a rifle is. An NIH study that investigated the levels of criminal activity committed with assault weapons or other high-capacity semiautomatics also found that these types of weapons are only being used in a small percentage of crimes: “Assault weapons (primarily assault-type rifles) account for 2–12% of guns used in crime in general (most estimates suggest less than 7%).” Wouldn’t all of the time, money, and resources being used to push for an assault rifle ban be better used elsewhere, such as creating a better mental health-care system that is accessible to those that need it most?

Which Type of Weapon Is Most Commonly Used for Homicides?

Handguns were found to be the most common weapon used for homicides, used in 45.7% of homicides committed nationwide. Since nearly a quarter of homicides used an unknown type of firearm, this percentage is likely to be even higher in actuality. The next category on the list is non-firearms that fall under the “other weapons” category, including things like blunt objects, poison, explosives, fire, and narcotics, used in 11.4% of homicides. This was followed by knives and other cutting instruments, used in 10.6% of all homicides. So how often are firearms actually used for murder overall? In total, they were used in three-quarters of all homicides, a very low percentage of which were committed with assault-style rifles.

The Weapons Most Commonly Used for Homicides in the United States

  1. Handguns45.7%
  2. Firearms (Type Unknown)23.9%
  3. Other Weapons11.4%
  4. Knives or Cutting Instruments10.6%
  5. Hands, Fists, Feet, Etc.4.3%
  6. Rifles2.6%
  7. Shotguns1.4%

How Often Are Assault Rifles Used in Homicides?

For how dangerous they are made out to be, assault rifles were not found to be used in homicides very often. Rifles were the weapon of choice in only 2.6% of the homicides that occurred in the United States in 2019, far lower than the 45.7% of homicides that were committed using a handgun. And even though nearly a quarter of homicides were committed using an unknown type of firearm, it’s safe to assume that handguns probably made up a large majority of that number as well. Even if a ban on assault weapons was enacted, it wouldn’t lower the number of assault rifles that are already in the United States, which is currently around the 20 million mark.

In Which State Is Each Type of Weapon Most Commonly Used in Homicides?

Using the 2019 Crime in the United States data, we also created a state-by-state breakdown of the percentage of murders using each weapon. For each type of weapon, we also tallied the ten states where it was used in the highest percentage of homicides.

Which states were found to use each type of weapon the most in homicides?

  • Maryland was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using handguns at 75.1%.
  • Vermont was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using rifles at 18.18%.
  • Maine was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using shotguns at 15%.
  • Delaware was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using unknown types of firearms at 56.3%.
  • Rhode Island was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using knives or cutting instruments at 28%.
  • Idaho was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using other weapons at 37.1%.
  • Vermont was found to have the highest percentage of homicides using hands, fists, feet, etc. at 18.2%.

Where Are Rifles Used the Most Often in Homicides?

When comparing the gun crime statistics between states, we found that Vermont has the highest percentage of homicides committed using a rifle at 18.18%, although the state’s murder statistics showed that the number of homicides using hands, fists, feet, etc. was nearly equal to the number of those committed using a rifle. Vermont has the third lowest murder rate in the country, with just 1.8 homicides per 100,000 people, so these seemingly large percentages only make up a small number of homicides.

What other initiatives do you believe the government should take to curb gun violence, aside from an assault weapons ban that may not make much difference in the long run?


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