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  • Weapon Use And Violent Crime

  • Weapon Use And Violent Crime

    Weapon Use and Violent Crime
    National Crime Victimization Survey, 1993-2001

    September 2003

    By Craig Perkins
    BJS Statistician Highlights

    For nonfatal violent crimes, offenders were more likely to have a firearm than a knife or club. From 1993 to 2001 the rate of firearm violence fell 63%

    • Approximately half of all robberies, about a quarter of all assaults, and roughly a twelfth of all rapes/sexual assaults involved an armed assailant. About 90% of homicide victims were killed with a weapon.
    • Firearm violence rates for blacks age 12 or older (8.4 per 1,000 blacks) were 40% higher than rates for Hispanics (6.0)

    200% higher than rates for whites (2.8 per 1,000).

    • Blacks were about 9 times more likely than whites to be murdered with a firearm.
    • On average black victims of firearm violence were 3 years younger than white victims -- 29 versus 32.
    • From 1993 through 2001 blacks accounted for 46% of homicide victims and 54% of victims of firearm homicide but 12% of the U.S. population.
    • The likelihood of an injury was the same for victims facing armed and unarmed offenders (26%); serious injury was more likely from armed offenders (7% versus 2%).
    • From 1993 through 2001 the number of murders declined 36% while the number of murders by firearms dropped 41%.
    • From 1994 through 1999, the years for which data are available, about 7 in 10 murders at school involved some type of firearm, and approximately 1 in 2 murders at school involved a handgun.

    Estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)indicate that between 1993 and 2001 approximately 26% of the average annual 8.9 million violent victimizations were committed by offenders armed with a weapon. About 10%, or 846,950 victimizations each year, involved a firearm.

    From 1993 through 2001 violent crime declined 54%; weapon violence went down 59%; and firearm violence, 63%.

    Males, blacks and Hispanics, the young, and those with the lowest annual household income were more vulnerable to weapon violence in general and firearm violence in particular than their respective counterparts.

    For the 9-year period beginning with 1993, 23% of white victims of violence and 36% of black victims were victims of violence involving an offender armed with a weapon. About 7% of white victims and 17% of black victims were involved in incidents in which an offender was armed with a gun.

    Forty-five percent of all violence with a weapon involved victims between ages 25 and 49, and 38% involved victims between ages 15 and 24.

    Blacks were about 9 times more likely than whites to be victims of gun-related homicides (25 per 100,000 blacks age 12 or older versus 3 per 100,000 whites.)

    While victimizations involving knives comprised 6% of all violent crimes resulting in an injury, these victimizations accounted for about 24% of all serious injuries experienced by crime victims.

    The most common locales for armed violence and gun violence were the streets: those away from the victim' home (30% of violence with a weapon and 35% of gun violence) and those at or near the victim's home (27% of armed violence and 25% of gun violence).

    Most violence involving a weapon and most firearm violence occurred while the victims were engaged in leisure activities away from home (27% and 27%)and commuting to work (23% and 25%, respectively).

    Weapon use varied by type of crime. Offenders had weapons in about half of robberies, a fourth of assaults, and a twelfth of rapes/sexual assaults.

    Weapons and violent crime

    On average each year between 1993 and 2001, approximately 26% (about 2.3 million) of the estimated 8.9 million violent crimes in the United States were committed by offenders armed with guns, knives, or objects used as weapons. Firearm violence accounted for 10% of all violent crimes; about 6% were committed with a knife or other sharp object such as scissors, ice pick, or broken bottle; 4% with blunt objects such as a brick, bat, or bottle; and 5% were committed with unspecified/ "other" objects used as weapons. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

    The NCVS is the Nation's primary source of information on criminal victimization. Data are continuously obtained from a nationally representative sample of approximately 43,000 households comprising nearly 80,000 persons age 12 or older. Household members are asked about the frequency, characteristics, and consequences of victimization.

    The survey enables the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to estimate the rate of victimization for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, robbery, assault, theft, household burglary, and motor vehicle theft. The rates describe the vulnerability to crime by the population as a whole as well as by segments of the population such as women, the elderly, members of racial and ethnic groups, and city dwellers.

    For the most current estimates of criminal victimization in the United States, see Criminal Victimization 2001: Changes 2000-2001 with Trends 1993-2001 <>. Definitions of weapons

    Firearms include handguns (pistols, revolvers, derringers) and shotguns, rifles, and other firearms (excluding BB and pellet guns and air rifles).

    Sharp objects include knives and other sharp edged and/or pointed objects (scissors, ice picks, and axes).

    Blunt objects include rocks, clubs, blackjacks, bats, and metal pipes.

    Other weapons include ropes, chains, poison, martial arts weapons, BB guns, and objects that could not be classified.


    Between 1993 and 2001 victims were confronted by offenders armed with guns in about 27% of robberies, 8% of assaults, and 3% of all rapes/sexual assaults.

    On average, each year U.S. residents were victims of crimes committed with firearms at a rate of 4 crimes per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. Of the average 847,000 violent victimizations committed with firearms, about 7 out of 8 were committed with handguns.

    Knives and sharp objects

    Annually during the 9-year period, about 570,000 violent victimizations were committed with a knife or other sharp object, accounting for 6% of all violent crimes. Thirteen percent of robberies, 6% of assaults, and 3% of rapes were committed with a knife or other sharp object.

    From 1993 through 2001 crimes involving knives or sharp objects were committed at an average annual rate of 3 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. In 85% of these victimizations, about 480,000 each year, the weapon was a knife. In the remainder, about 88,000 victimizations per year, the weapon was another type of sharp object.

    Blunt objects

    Armed with blunt objects such as bats, sticks, rocks, clubs, or blackjacks, offenders committed approximately 356,000 violent crimes each year from 1993 through 2001.

    Crimes by offenders armed with blunt objects were committed at an average annual rate of 2 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.

    Other weapons

    Between 1993 and 2001 about 5% of all violent crimes were committed with weapons other than guns, knives, or blunt objects. Such weapons include ropes, chains, poison, martial arts weapons, BB guns (not considered to be firearms by the NCVS), and objects that could not be classified.

    Weapon use and crime outcome

    Weapon use varied by crime. Robberies, followed by all assaults, were more likely to involve an armed assailant while rape/sexual assault was the least likely.


    Armed robberies were more likely to be completed, resulting in loss of property, than unarmed robberies. Higher completion percentages occurred for robberies committed with firearms than for robberies with knives and other sharp objects or blunt objects/other weapons. Robberies committed with knives and unarmed robberies were completed at similar percentages. Assaults

    All assaults in this report represent simple and aggravated assault examined together.

    Simple assault is an attack without a weapon resulting in either no injury or minor injury.

    Aggravated assault is an attack or attempted attack with a weapon, regardless of whether an injury occurred and attack without a weapon when serious injury results.

    A discussion of minor and serious injury appears on page 6.

    Rape/sexual assault

    For the 9-year period beginning in 1993, the percentage of rapes/sexual assaults that was completed did not vary significantly depending on the offenders' possession of a weapon. About 71% of rapes/sexual assaults involving no weapon were completed; of such assaults with a weapon, 67% were completed.


    The outcome for incidents of assault is measured by whether a victim sustained an injury as a result of the crime.

    Overall, about 1 in 4 assault victims were injured during the incident. Victims of firearm violence were less likely than other victims to be injured. About 1 in 3 assault victims were injured when the offender possessed a blunt object or some unspecified type of weapon. About 1 in 4 victims were injured when the assailant had a knife.

    Victim characteristics

    Males, blacks, Hispanics, and those between ages 15 and 24 were more vulnerable than their respective counterparts to violent crime committed by armed assailants.


    Between 1993 and 2001, approximately 1 in 3 male victims of violent crime faced an armed offender. About 1 in 5 female victims of violent crime faced an armed assailant. Males were twice as likely as females to be confronted by an armed offender (14 versus 7 per 1,000 persons respectively). This pattern was generally consistent across weapon types; for each type of weapon, the victimization rate for males was about twice that for females. Offender use of firearms

    Of incidents involving offenders with firearms, victims --
    * were shot (3%)
    * were shot at but not hit (8%)
    * were struck with a firearm (4%)
    * were threatened with a firearm (72%) * did not describe offender's use of firearms (13%).

    Race and ethnicity

    For each type of weapon, victimization rates for whites were lower than those for blacks or Hispanics.***Footnote 1: In this report race and ethnicity are analyzed together. White, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian refer to non-Hispanic persons.*** Blacks were victimized by offenders armed with guns at higher rates than Hispanics but at similar rates as American Indians. Blacks had similar victimization rates as Hispanics for crimes committed with knives or blunt objects/other weapons.

    The rate of firearm violence for blacks was more than twice that for whites (8 versus 3 per 1,000). The rate for Hispanics (6 per 1,000)was about twice that for whites.

    No significant differences separated the rates at which whites and blacks were victimized by unarmed offenders.

    The rate of armed violence for American Indians (25 per 1,000 American Indians) was--

    • 43% higher than the rate for blacks (18 per 1,000 blacks)
    • 78% higher than the rate for Hispanics (14 per 1,000 Hispanics)
    • 184% higher than the rate for whites (9 per 1,000).

    Age, weapons, and violence

    For overall violence, persons age 12-14, 15-17, and 18-20 were victimized at similar rates, higher than those for persons age 21 or older. Vulnerability to victimization by an armed offender similarly varied by the age of victim. Younger persons, particularly those age 18-20, had higher rates of victimization by armed offenders.

    The rate of firearm violence was also highest for persons age 18-20. Their rate (12 per 1,000 persons) was about 40% higher than the rate for persons ages 15 to 17 and 21 to 24.

    Except for victims age 12-14, for whom firearm violence constituted about 3% of all violent crime, firearm violence accounted for between 9% and 13% of all violent crime for each age group.

    Similarly, crimes committed with knives/sharp objects accounted for 6% to 8%, and crimes with other weapons, 9% to 11% of all violent crime for each age group examined.

    Forty-five percent of all armed violence involved victims between 25 and 49, and 38% was against victims age 15- 24.

    Race, ethnicity, and age

    When race and ethnicity are added to the considerations of age, some differences in victimization rates between age categories emerge for crimes committed with any weapon or with a firearm. Both for crimes committed with any weapon and for firearm violence specifically, differences between black and Hispanic victimization rates were greatest within the age category 18-20.

    Whites and blacks, age 18-20, were more likely than whites and blacks of other ages to have been victims of weapon violence in general and firearm violence in particular. Hispanics of ages 15-17 and 18-20were more vulnerable than other Hispanics to violence involving a weapon and violence involving a firearm.

    The rates of violent victimization, violent victimization involving a weapon, and violent victimization involving a firearm for persons age 18-20 were approximately 20 times those of persons age 65 or older.

    For blacks, whites, and Hispanics, victims of violent crime were, on average, younger than the general population. For the general population as well as for the victim population, the mean age of whites was greater than the mean age of blacks.

    Overall among the victims, blacks were older than Hispanics, the youngest racial or ethnic group considered. This pattern of relative ages was true for victims of violence involving firearms.

    Annual household income

    Persons with annual household incomes of less than $7,500 experienced both armed violence and firearm violence at about 3 times the rates of persons with annual household incomes of $50,000 or more (23.1 versus 7.3 armed victimizations per 1,000 persons, and 8.4 versus 2.4 firearm victimizations, respectively).

    Annual household income and race/ethnicity

    Blacks at every income level were more vulnerable than whites to be victims of firearm violence. Whites and blacks with household incomes below $7,500 were more vulnerable to armed violence than their counterparts with higher incomes.

    For violence by an offender with a weapon and for violence by an offender armed with a gun, blacks with household incomes of less than $50,000 were victimized at rates higher than those of Hispanics or whites with similar incomes.

    Weapons and injuries

    For 1993-2001 about a quarter of violent crimes overall resulted in an injury to the victim. Crimes committed with weapons and crimes committed without weapons were about equally likely to result in victim injury (26%). Crimes committed with weapons, however, were about 3.5 times as likely to result in serious injury as crimes committed by unarmed offenders (7% versus 2%, respectively).

    Of all violence with a weapon, the crimes committed with blunt objects/other weapons were the most often associated with victim injury (36%). Twenty-eight percent of the crimes with knives/sharp objects and 15% of crimes with firearms involved injury.

    Offenders armed with knives accounted for 6% of all violence but 24% of all serious injuries having inflicted serious injury on about 1 in 8 of their victims. About 1 in 15 victims of offenders using a blunt object/other weapon and 1 in 22 victims of offenders with a firearm sustained serious injury.

    Because completed rape is considered an injury, victims of rape/sexual assault were more likely than robbery or assault victims to be injured, regardless of offender weapon use. For all weapon types, robbery victims were more likely than assault victims to sustain injury. Definition of types of injuries

    Serious injuries include gunshot or knife wounds, broken bones, loss of teeth, internal injuries, loss of consciousness, and undetermined injuries requiring 2 or more days of hospitalization.

    Minor injuries include bruises, black eyes, cuts, scratches, swelling, chipped teeth, and undetermined injuries requiring less than 2 days of hospitalization.

    Rape is sexual intercourse forced on the victim through physical or psychological coercion. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s), including penetration by a foreign object. Victims can be male or female, and the rape can be heterosexual or homosexual. NCVS defines completed rape as a serious injury.

    Rape without additional injuries, for the purposes of this report, were categorized as an injury but not as a serious or minor injury. Cases in which the victim suffered additional injuries were grouped according to the severity of those additional injuries.

    Robbery and injuries

    About half of victims of robbery by offenders armed with blunt objects/ other weapons sustained an injury during the crime.

    About a third of victims of robbery by unarmed offenders (36%) and offenders armed with knives or sharp objects (31%)sustained injury during the victimization.

    Offenders armed with any weapon other than a firearm inflicted a serious injury during about 1 in 7 robberies that they committed.

    Victims of robbery by offenders armed with blunt objects/ other weapons were more likely than victims of robbery by offenders armed with a firearm to be attacked without a prior threat.


    Victims were injured in a third of all assaults by offenders armed with blunt objects/other weapons. Less than a third of assaults by offenders armed with guns or knives resulted in injury (13% and 26%, respectively). Victims of offenders armed with a knife or sharp object were the most likely to sustain a serious injury; 12% of such offenses resulted in serious injury.

    Rape/sexual assault

    About half of all victims of rape/sexual assault committed by unarmed offenders were injured, compared to threequarters of victims of such crimes by armed offenders. ***Footnote 2: The small number of sample cases of rape/ sexual assault, the least frequent nonlethal violent crime, prevents further examination of injuries by type of weapon.***

    Injuries sustained include completed rape. (See definitions of type of injuries on page 6.)

    Characteristics of the incident

    Time of incident

    Violent crimes at night were more likely than crimes occurring during the day to involve a weapon (30% versus 21%, respectively ) or a firearm (12% versus 6%, respectively). Three of every five crimes committed by an offender with a firearm occurred at night.

    Activity and location

    Crime by armed offenders was most likely to occur while the victim was engaged in leisure activity away from home (27%) or traveling to or from work or school (23%). Nearly 21% of victims of armed violence were involved in some activity at home at the time of the incident.

    The most common location for crimes by armed offenders was on the street away from the victim's home (30%). About a quarter of all violence by armed offenders occurred at or near the victim's home.

    About 6% of armed violence, and 2% of firearm violence occurred at a school or on school grounds.

    Victim-offender relationship

    Crimes committed by intimates were less likely than crimes committed by strangers to involve a weapon. The offender was armed in a third of all violence by a stranger and in a sixth of all violence committed by an intimate.

    Victims of crimes by strangers were also more likely than victims of crimes by intimates to be confronted by an offender with a firearm (14% versus 5%, respectively).


    Violent victimization rates declined from 1993 to 2001. Rates for crimes committed with firearms reflected a larger decrease than did the rates for overall violence and armed violence in general. Between 1993 and 2001 overall violence decreased 54%, armed violence fell 59%, and firearm violence declined 63%.

    The rates of firearm violence for blacks and Hispanics fell relatively more than the rate for whites, 1993-2001. In 1993 blacks and Hispanics were victims of firearm violence at a rate of 13 firearm crimes per 1,000 persons, about 3 times the rate for whites. By 2001 the rate for blacks had fallen to about 4 per 1,000, roughly 2.5 times that for whites. The rate for Hispanics in 2001 was less than 3 victims of firearm violence per 1,000 Hispanics in the population.

    From 1993 to 2001, rates of violence involving firearms declined among all age groups. The decline was greatest among the youngest victims: by 2001, persons age 12-14 had experienced a 97% decrease in the rate of firearm violence, and those age 15-17, a 77% decrease.

    Homicide and weapons

    Between 1993 and 2001 local law enforcement agencies reported 160,396 murders and nonnegligent manslaughters of persons age 12 or older to the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports. (The homicides that occurred in the events of September 11, 2001, were not included.) There was an annual average of 17,822 murders of persons age 12 or older. A weapon was used in 91% of these crimes. In 4% of the homicides, the offender used a means such as strangling, punching, and kicking. Information about the weapon used was unavailable in 5% of all homicides.

    Seventy percent of homicide victims were killed with a firearm. Handguns were used in 56% of all homicides.


    Male homicide victims were more likely than female victims to have been killed by a firearm. Eight in ten male homicide victims were killed with a firearm, compared to 6 in 10 female victims.

    Knives or other sharp objects were the second most frequently used weapon in homicides of both males and females (13% and 22%, respectively). Males were 5 times more likely than females to be a victim of a homicide committed with a firearm (10 versus 2 per 100,000 persons, respectively), and twice as likely to be murdered with a knife or other sharp object (2 versus 1 per 100,000, respectively).


    From 1993 to 2001, blacks were 12% of the U.S. population age 12 or older but 46% of all homicide victims and 54% of all victims of firearm homicide. Among homicide victims, blacks were more likely than whites to have been killed with a firearm. About 8 in 10 black homicide victims and 7 in 10 white homicide victims died from gunshot injuries.

    Blacks were about 7 times more likely than whites to be a homicide victim (30 versus 4 per 100,000 persons age 12 or older respectively), and approximately 9 times more likely to be a victim of a homicide committed with a firearm (25 versus 3 per 100,000 persons age 12 or older, respectively).


    Persons age 18 to 24 were victims of homicide overall as well as firearm homicides at the highest rates. Those age 18 to 24 were 3.5 times as likely as persons age 12 to 17 and about 3 times as likely as those age 25 to 64 to be killed with a firearm.

    There appears to be a relationship between the age of the victim and the type of homicide weapon. Victims of firearm murders were, on average, 6 years younger than victims of homicides committed with knives/other sharp objects (31 versus 37 years old, respectively), and 12 years younger than victims of homicides committed with blunt objects (age 43). Murders of children under age 12

    Weapons in general and firearms specifically were less commonly used against murder victims under age 12 than against those age 12 or older.

    From 1993 through 2001, about 2 in 5 murders of children under age 12 involved a weapon, and about 1 in 6 involved a firearm. Among victims age 12 or older, 91% of the murders were committed with a weapon, and 70% were committed with a firearm.

    In 1993 firearms accounted for 19% of murders of persons under age 12. This peak of 195 incidents preceded a decline; in 2001, 15% of all such murders (127 of the 824 total) involved a firearm.

    Race and age

    On average, black murder victims were 5 years younger than white victims (age 31 versus age 36, respectively). The same age difference existed for firearm murders (age 28 versus age 33, respectively). Black and white victims of murders committed with knives or blunt objects were, on average, closer in age.

    Trends in homicides, 1993-2001

    The number of homicides declined 36% between 1993 and 2001. Firearmhomicides decreased 41% during the period. In 1993, 72% of homicides of persons age 12 or older were committed with firearms. In 2001, 66% were committed with firearms. Weapons, juveniles, and school violence

    Annually on average, 1993 to 2001, about 703,800 violent crimes against persons age 12-17 occurred at school or on school property. About 8% of these crimes were committed with a weapon; about 1% with a firearm.

    About a third of armed assaults in schools resulted in injury to the victim.

    Between 1994 and 1999, the most recent year of available data,172 homicides of both students and nonstudents took place at school or on school property in the United States.

    Of these, 69% were committed with a firearm. Eighteen percent were committed with a knife or other sharp object. Of the firearm homicides at school, three-quarters were committed with handguns. Victim self-defense

    Between 1993 and 2001, about 61% of all victims of violent crime reported taking a self-defensive measure during the incident.

    Most used nonaggressive means, such as trying to escape, getting help, or attempting to scare off or warn the offender. About 13% of victims of violent crime tried to attack or threaten the offender. About 2% of victims of violent crime used a weapon to defend themselves; half of these, about 1% of violent crime victims, brandished a firearm.


    Except for homicide data obtained from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, this report presents data from the BJS National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Between 1993 and 2001 the Census Bureau interviewed approximately 651,750 individuals age 12 or older in 336,295 households. For the NCVS data presented, response rates varied between 93% and 96% of eligible households, and between 89% and 92% of eligible individuals.

    Violent acts covered in this report include murder, rape, sexual assault, robbery, and assault (aggravated and simple) against persons age 12 or older. Overall violent crime is a combination of each type of crime.

    Hypothesis testing and the NCVS

    Standard error computations

    Comparisons of estimates discussed in this report were tested to determine if the differences were statistically significant. Differences described as higher, lower, or different passed a hypothesis test at the .05-level of statistical significance (95%-level of confidence). That is, the tested difference was greater than about twice the standard error of that difference. Comparisons of estimates statistically significant at the 0.10 level (90%-confidence level), have differences described as somewhat, marginal, or slight.

    Caution is required when making comparisons of estimates not explicitly discussed in this report. What may appear to be a large difference in estimates may not test as statistically significant at the 95%- or even the 90% confidence level. Significance testing calculations were conducted at BJS using statistical programs developed specifically for the NCVS by the U.S. Census Bureau. These programs consider the complex NCVS sample design when calculating generalized variance estimates.

    Estimates based on 10 or fewer sample cases have high relative standard errors. Because calculated standard errors for such estimates may not be accurate, care should be taken when comparing estimates based on 10 or fewer cases to other estimates. It is not advisable to make comparisons between estimates when both are based on 10 or fewer sample cases. In this report, estimates based on 10 or fewer sample cases are marked with asterisks "*."

    Testing trends in weapons violence

    Unless stated otherwise when a statement is made describing differences in estimates between years, it was tested for significance using a computer program designed specifically for the NCVS. These tests determine whether an estimate in one year differs from that of another, regardless of intervening estimate variation.

    Definitions of crimes:

    Aggravated assault - Attack or attempted attack with a weapon, regardless of whether or not an injury occurred and attack without a weapon when serious injury results.

    Rape - Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means, vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object. Includes rapes of male and female victims and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.

    Robbery - Completed or attempted theft, directly from a person, of property or cash by force or threat of force, with or without a weapon, and with or without injury.

    Sexual assault - A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats.

    Simple assault - Attack without a weapon resulting either in no injury, minor injury (for example, bruises, black eyes, cuts, scratches, or swelling) or in undetermined injury requiring less than 2 days of hospitalization. Also includes attempted assault without a weapon.

    This information came from a US DOJ online article.

    *** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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