The federal government does not know what kinds of guns are used in homicides, except on the broadest level. That makes the debate over assault rifles and other semi-automatic rifles and pistols more difficult to frame.
24/7 Wall St. put questions about gun data to several federal agencies and to Vice President Biden’s office through the White House. What we found is that data on guns used in the commission of homicides can only be broken down into five very broad categories. As Stephen G. Fischer Jr. of the FBI wrote to us:
Data reported to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program via the Summary Reporting System is an aggregate total of the type of weapon. The system does not allow for the distinction of type of weaponry. Data reported are general such as handgun, shotgun, rifle, or firearm.
The two agencies most likely to keep detailed numbers are the Office of Justice Programs: Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI’s division that issues the annual crime report. Neither has the ability to collect or report data on whether guns used in the commission of a crime are single shot, semi-automatic, revolvers, single-barrel or double-barrel shotguns, or rifles that can hold magazines with a large number of bullets.
The Uniform Crime Report for 2011, the most recent full year for which data are available, breaks “murder by types of weapon” into the following categories:
Total murders, total firearms, handguns, rifles, shotguns, firearms (type unknown), knives or cutting instruments, and “hands, fists, feet, etc”.
Use of handguns in homicides as a percentage of total guns used runs between 70% and 80% in most states. Use of rifles is below 5% in most cases, and use of shotguns around 5%. The use of knives is almost always greater than that of rifles or shotguns, measured state by state.
The problem that the lack of data causes is about how to determine which guns might or might not be regulated more carefully. Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. (NYSE: RGR) makes several single-shot rifles, which probably pose little threat as instruments that might be used in mass killings. Ruger also makes “takedown” rifles, which auto load and have a standard clip capacity of 10 rounds. Ruger’s center-fire pistols take clips that hold up to 15 rounds. It also makes single-action revolvers, which can carry a maximum of six rounds.
Also, Ruger makes guns that use bullets ranging from 22 caliber to 45 caliber.
The federal government does not attempt to gather information about guns used in homicides from local authorities, according to 24/7 Wall St.’s conversations with several police departments and sheriff’s departments. So, whether this information is kept locally is academic.
Based on the importance of gun control, the lack of availability of data on which guns are used in homicides is astonishing.