The U.S. Department of Justice just published the results of an interesting survey. The Bureau of Justice Statistics polled state and federal prisoners in 2016 asking how they acquired and used firearms in the commission of the crime(s) for which they were convicted. This may not be exciting to read, but I promise the data is interesting.
Check out the full report here.
Use of firearms by inmates
When inmates were asked if they had acquired a firearm with the intent of using it in a crime, 19.7% said yes and 80.3% said no. This means that most inmates did not seek out a gun to commit the crime for which they were convicted, they already owned it.
Of federal inmates, 25.9% said they used a firearm while committing their crime(s). An amazing 68% of state inmates used a firearm.
To be clear the survey considers merely showing the firearm as “using” it. The dramatic difference between the state and federal stats is interesting. That’s likely has to do with the types of crimes prosecuted at the federal level. Most assaults, robberies, rapes and murders are handled on the local level.
Here’s how the convicts’ firearm was used in state vs. federal crimes:
Discharged: 46.5% / 11.9%
Killed victim: 27.1% / 4.1%
Injured/shot victim, but did not kill victim: 12.4% / 2.2%
Discharged firearm, but did not shoot anyone: 7.0% / 5.6%
Did not discharge: 21.5% / 14.0%
The estimated number of prisoners who possessed a firearm (with valid data): 245,400 state, 32,900 federal.
Type of Firearm used
Let’s look at the kinds of firearms possessed/used by almost 1.4 million state and federal prisoners surveyed:
Handgun: 18.4% / 11.2%
Rifle: 1.5% / .8%
Shotgun: 1.6% / 1.1%
No firearm used: 79.2% / 87.2%
About 0.1% of state prisoners and 0.2% of federal prisoners reported another type of firearm or did not report enough information to specify the type of firearm. The important stat here is that 87.2% of the inmates surveyed didn’t use a gun at all.
Type of crime committed when a firearm was used
The homicide stat is worth noting: 35.9% of murderers possessed a gun when they killed their victim, but only 25.3% of murderers used a gun.
Type of crime: percent that possessed a firearm vs. percent that used a firearm
Total: 20.0% / 5.0%
Violent: 36.2% / 25.3%
Homicide: 35.9% / 28.4%
Rape/sexual: na / na
Robbery: 46.3% / 32.1%
Assault: 29.0% / 18.1%
Other violent: 34.1% / n/a
Property: 2.6% / na
Burglary: na – na
Other property: 2.4% – na
Drug 12.3% – 0.6%
Trafficking 12.9% – 0.7%
Possession: na – na
Other/unspecified: drug na – na
Percent of Federal prisoners who possessed a firearm during the offense by demographics
The citizenship info is interesting here. Non-US citizens are significantly less likely to be in possession of a firearm than US citizens.
Gender of those who possessed a firearm
Ethnicity of those who possessed a firearm
American Indian/Alaska Native: 23.8%
Two or more races: 29.3%
Age at time of survey
55 or older: 12.2%
Never married: 24.6
Less than high school: 22.7%
High school graduate: 19.4%
Some college: 18.8%
College degree or more: 6.3%
U.S. citizen: 24.2%
Non-U.S. citizen: 7.2%
Where inmates acquire firearms
These stats are state and federal figures combined. Gun shows — yes, the dreaded “gun show loophole” — account for only 0.8% of purchases. And many/most/all of those may have included a background check. That’s a shockingly low figure. As you would probably guess, most inmates acquired their gun illegally.
Purchased/traded at retail source: 10.1%
Gun shop/store: 7.5%
Pawn shop: 1.6%
Flea market: 0.4%
Gun show: 0.8%
Obtained from individual: 25.3%
Purchased/traded from family/friend: 8.0%
Rented/borrowed from family/friend: 6.5%
Gift/purchased for prisoner: 10.8%
Off the street/underground market: 43.2%
From burglary: 1.5%
From retail source: 0.2%
From family/friend: 1.6%
Unspecified theft: 3.1%
Other sources: 17.4%
Found at location of crime/victim: 6.9%
Brought by someone else: 4.6%
Multiple sources: 2.5%
From the study:
Prisoners who reported that they had purchased a firearm from a licensed firearm dealer at a retail source were further asked whether they bought the firearm under their own name and whether they knew a background check was conducted. Among those who had possessed a firearm during the offense for which they were imprisoned, 7% of state and 8% of federal prisoners had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer at a retail source, while approximately 1% of state and 2% of federal prisoners had purchased a firearm from a licensed dealer at a retail source but did not purchase it under their own name.
So much for the effectiveness of “universal background checks.”
What can we learn from these figures? Not much that we didn’t already know or suspect. Sure, the widow/widower stat may be interesting, but this study doesn’t contain any Earth-shattering information.
We already knew that most criminals acquire their guns illegally. We already knew that rifles are used in crimes extremely rarely and most of the time when criminals fire their guns, it doesn’t result in a death.
The title of this post is Felons, Feinstein and Facts. You got your facts about felons, so what about Feinstein? Senator Diane Feinstein is the de facto leader of the federal civilian disarmament caucus. What will she do with these facts? Nothing.
Anti-gunners couldn’t care less about objective statistics like these. Rifles were possessed by a mere 1.5% of the 1.4 million inmates surveyed and a tiny .8% used them in the commission of their crimes. If you think that will affect her efforts to enact another “assault weapons” ban, think again.