In response to sharp increases in violent crime, President Biden stressed again last week that his administration is focused on “stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes.” But critics warn that this “guns first” approach ignores a basic fact—about 92% of violent crimes in America do not involve firearms.
Although firearms were used in about 74% of homicides in 2019, they comprise less than 9% of violent crimes in America.
The vast majority of violent offenses—including robberies, rapes and other sex crimes—almost always involve other weapons or no weapons at all.
Consider Chicago, which has become a national symbol of violent crime. While shootings have increased by about 11% this year, the number of murders has decreased slightly in 2021—to 382 as of July 11 compared to 387 for the same time period last year. The dramatic increase Chicago is experiencing is in sex crimes—a 23% rise (1,068 as of July 11 compared with 868 during the same period in 2020).
In New York City, murders through the same period have dropped by 36.4% compared to last year. But robberies are up by 18%, rapes by 9%, and other sex crimes by 35%—all of which do not usually involve guns, sex crimes rarely so. This year murders make up 0.3% of felonies.
Even if gun crime were to rise dramatically, experts point out that it would still be a small fraction of overall violent crime.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, in the latest year available (2019), shows that there were 5,440,680 rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults and 16,425 murders. Firearms were used in 440,830 incidents for rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults (Table 25) and 10,258 murders. Adding those numbers up, 8.27% of violent crime incidents involved firearms. The percentage has stayed virtually the same for decades. For example, in 2000, it was 8.5%. In 2010, it was 9% (Table 4). Nor do most gun crimes end in murder: just 2% do.
The gulf between Democrats and Republicans on this is large. While Democrats are continuing to push for restrictions on police authority, Republican states are responding by giving police more power to do their job.