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Less than 0.00004 of All U.S. Guns Are Used in Homicides

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John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
(Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

Firearms have been getting a lot of airtime in the media recently, with the debate surrounding gun safety simmering at a slow and steady boil before surging to the headlines after each bout of random violence by a deranged person intent on doing harm. So it’s no surprise when a terrible tragedy like the one last Wednesday, in which WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were shot and killed by a racist ex-coworker with a chip on his shoulder the size of Alaska, is quickly followed by an outcry against guns and a demand for stricter laws -- or even an outright ban.

Amid all the concern over guns, perhaps it's important to understand just how many of these firearms currently sitting in millions of homes throughout America are actually used in homicides.

According to the most recent government data, it’s less than 0.00004 (0.004%).

The most recent estimates for the number of guns in circulation throughout the United States falls somewhere around 310 million by 2009 standards, according to the National Institute of Justice. There are probably even more now that it’s six years later, but we’ll stick with the latest concrete number.

The number of firearm-related homicides in 2013 -- the CDC’s most recent data -- was 11,208 (so about 309,988,792 guns were just milling about that year, not killing anybody).

That means about 0.000036 homicides were committed per gun in the United States in 2013. For those of you who don’t like doing math, that’s less than four homicides per 100,000 guns.

The numbers aren’t too much higher when compared with the number gun owners in America -- which is a significantly smaller figure than the number of guns in circulation, since many gun owners own more than one firearm.

Since you can’t legally own a rifle until the age of 18 or a handgun until you’re 21 in most states, we’ll start with the number of people 18 and older in the United States, which the U.S. Census Bureau estimated to be around 242.5 million in 2013.

There aren’t any national gun registration laws, so the number of gun owners is a little more difficult to calculate. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, however, about 45 percent Americans reported owning a gun. By this estimate, there were about 109 million gun owners, or people with easy access to them, in the United States in 2013.

So according to these numbers, if there were 11,208 gun-related homicides in 2013, that comes out to about 0.0001 firearm-related homicides per gun owner, or one in 10,000. 

Now, unless you’re one of the few people out there who actually wants to do harm to your fellow man, even one preventable death by shooting is too many. In fact, most people would argue that one preventable death from just about any cause is one too many, right?

Take abortion, for example. In 2010, there were 765,651 reported abortions performed in the United States, according to the CDC. But buried within the agency’s 2011 report is the added fact that 10 women died from abortion complications that same year.

Setting aside the fact that abortion carries a nearly 100 percent chance of death for the baby, that’s a rate of about 1.5 deaths per 100,000 women.

So is one really too many?

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