This follows a question of mine on expatriates.SX:

I may move to the US, but I'm kind of scared of the gun violence

One of the answers there suggests that US gun violence is not as bad as the overall statistics make it look, because supposedly it's mostly confined to violence among "criminals".

Ignoring the problematics of that categorization (false dichotomy between criminals and "normal" people, committing a crime does not make that a defining feature of who a person is, criminal system bias against poorer and minority subjects etc.), suppose we define a "criminal otherwise than in an incident" as a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense such as: burglary, car theft, robbery, aggravated assault, extortion, homicide, manslaughter - at any time in his/her life, except for some specified incident.

Now, with that convoluted definition - how may gun violence incidents in the US were there, in any of the years 2010-2014:

  • Overall (for normalization)?
  • Which have had the gun used by a criminal other than in that incident?
  • In which both most involved parties (e.g. perpatrator and victim) were criminals other than in that incident?


  • I know I'm being rather picky about the statistics here, so if you have a statistic which is close to what I'm after or can allow for a "guesstiamtion", that would help too.
  • You can add some additional crimes in the same vein as those I listed (but please make that explicit).
  • I haven't defined what a "gun violence incident" is. Let's say I'm interested both in incidents in which a gun was actually fired (intentionally or by accident), and incidents in which a gun was either fired or was used to threaten someone. But whatever definition your statistics use is fine.
  • If you can separate out domestic (=intra-family) violence, that would be nice.
  • 3
    In a loudable effort to make the question answerable, you're unfortunately painting yourself into a corner where any answer would be more than useless. If most gun crimes involve gang members, but very few gang members are convicted, you're basically biasing your statistics in the direction OPPOSITE of the correct conclusion given the context of the original question. Additionally, you're including "guns fired by accident" which also has very little with original claim. Also gun used to threaten someone is extremely unlikely to be tracked as statistics.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 15:25
  • 4
    @user4012: But being a "gang member" is essentially a police slur against people whose company they don't like. Is there some kind of credible way to label a person a "criminal gang member"?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 15:38
  • 4
    If someone uses a gun to commit a crime, they are, by definition, a criminal, that makes your questions poorly formed, vague and opinion-based. Most gun violence in the US is not from strangers.
    – BradC
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 15:45
  • 2
    @user4012: But not news to people not in actual gangs, only defined as such by someone.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 15:53
  • 3
    Right...and in terms of your concern, I think you'd want to know how many of those were random shootings. Also note that Chicago is representative of Chicago more than the US
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


Yes. The research seems to support this assertion:

From Urban Wire's "What we know about gun violence in the United States: Who’s affected?":

A small set of key groups and a small number of repeat offenders are responsible for gun-related violence


Recent findings by our colleagues show that firearm violence is “driven by a tiny number of community members, many of them who are already known to the justice system, and who are also among the most likely victims of violence.” For example, Chicago data show that 41 percent of gun homicides in one high-crime community took place within the social network of less than 4 percent of that community’s population.

From the linked-above article "Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence: A Road Map for Safer Communities":

5. A Small Numberof People Are Responsible for a Majority of Violent Incidents

While the impact of firearm violence is widespread and devastating, it is typically driven by a tiny number of community members, many of whom are already known to the justice system and who are also among the most likely victims of violence.

  • Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones estimated that no more than 0.25 to 1 percent of the city’s population was actively involved in violence, and that about 83 percent of people in this small group were also involved with the justice system before committing a homicide.

  • In Milwaukee, 91 percent of homicide suspects in 2014 had been previously arrested at least once (MHRC2014).

  • Wider research on the dynamics of firearm violence supports these observations, finding that a small group of people with extensive criminal histories perpetrates the majority of violence (Braga 2003). Moreover, this violence is highly concentrated in small social networks (Tracey, Braga, and Papachristos 2016).

  • In one Chicago neighborhood,41 percent of gun homicides occurred among a social network containing less than 4 percent of the neighborhood’s population (Papachristos and Wildeman 2014)

  • 1
    And I fully second the last part of BradC's answer in that what you care about is not "violence in US" but "violence in a specific locale you'll be in". The chances to be a victim of a crime in St. Louis, MO (or Chicago's South Side, proverbially) are way higher than Aspen, CO or RandomLittleTown, WI.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 18:27
  • 1
    And, as a resident of St. Louis, realize that even those stats have to be contextualized: the borders of St. Louis city proper (which give rise to our "#1 in murders!" rating, are very much around the highest-crime areas. But most of the residents of the St. Louis metro area actually live in the much larger surrounding county and suburbs with much, much lower crime rates.
    – BradC
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 18:50
  • 1
    @BradC - absolutely correct.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 18:52
  • 2
    @einpoklum - do you have evidence for your assertion #1. "Practically everybody" gets arrested occasionally? Even in hotbed of BOTH criminality AND arrests like NYC, the numbers are something close to less than 1 in 1000 being arrested. Oh, and despite what you see in the media, there's pretty few people protesting overall, and even less arrested at said protests (low thousants across ALL protests in last couple of years would be my random guess not backed up by bothering to Google)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 19:53
  • 4
    @einpoklum - but if you asked a question with a specific answer in mind, no evidence will ever convince you that presupposed answer is wrong, so i won't bother trying to convince anymore.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 19:55

Any statistics on this matter are going to, almost by definition, by controversial and political. Check your sources carefully.

This article summarizes the 2014 CDC (a US government agency) statistics on gun violence in the US:

  • 33,594: injuries from guns
  • 21,386: suicides
  • 11,008: homicides
  • 275: undetermined or unintentional

To put those in some perspective, the actual CDC report itself does not list homicide in the top 15 causes of death in the US (suicide is #10).

Characterizing the nature of those homicides appears to be more difficult.

The above article contains some attempt to summarize, but if you want to dig into the grizzly details, you'll need to look at the FBI's statistics on homicide by relationship and statistics on homicide by method.

These stats are from 2011, so won't match the CDC figures above. A few key findings, with regard to your question (these percentages were calculated by me from the FBI figures provided):

  • Only 11.7% of murders (not just those involving firearms) involve a stranger, although 44% are unhelpfully characterized as having an "unknown" relationship between victim and offender.
  • 14% of murders occurred during the commission of other felonies (mostly robberies or drug-related offenses)
  • 28% of murders occurred as part of arguments
  • Only 5% of murders are characterized as gang-related

I'm not sure if or how much these figures put your mind to ease. These are national statistics, so will vary to an extremely large degree by location.

My primary advice is to look at the crime statistics for the specific area you are considering. These kinds of statistic are likely to be available from local or state government agencies, and widely reported by local newspapers.

  • "28% of murders occurred as part of arguments" = that's an odd one. I'd assume it'd be 100%. :) (EDIT: Actually, I suppose there's different types of murders. Premeditated would likely be 100%. But not others...)
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 17:07
  • @blip That was a rollup of "Romantic triangle" + "Brawl due to influence of alcohol/narcotics" + "Argument over money or property" + "Other arguments". That doesn't include gang shootings, or murders committed during robberies, or all the other categories.
    – BradC
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 17:09
  • First - +1 for the stats and effort. However... by these figures, homicides are just 25% of the gun injuries+homicides total. And even that is less than 10% of the more general figure of gun violence incidents, which I would assume are mostly being threatened by a gun and forced to do things at gunpoint. So the breakdown's contribution to answering my question is quite limited. Having said that, it's interesting that only 5% of gun homicides are gang-related.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 17:16
  • 2
    @einpoklum As I said near the end, I think local statistics are going to be far, far more useful to you on a practical level. There are parts of the US with very very low crime rates. Every city and town will have some neighborhoods with higher and lower crime rates that can help you decide where to live. I'm not saying gun violence isn't a real problem, it clearly is in many ways, but it really isn't a daily concern for most people unless you're living in the South side of Chicago.
    – BradC
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 17:36
  • I would think the suicides will be largely by gun owners, a smaller amount by people living with gun owners, and a small percentage by people who stole a gun to kill themselves. So roughly 2/3rds of gun injuries happen to gun owners. #1 safety advice: Don't buy a gun if you are depressed.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 18:30

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .