Op/Ed: Gun Violence, Firearms Used During Mass Shootings And Street Crimes


Gun Violence, Firearms Used During Mass Shootings And Street Crimes. The following article has been written by Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. It includes editorial content which is the opinion and story of the writer.


A summation of firearms used during street crimes and mass shootings. 


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of directing award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of Criminology and Public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Former police officer. Aspiring drummer.

Author of ”Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon and additional booksellers.

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I have a question from a college student. What weapons are used during violent crime? What’s the role of assault weapons, especially during mass shootings? Are firearm homicides at record levels? What’s the role of increased violence and firearms?

Hi Michelle (pseudonym): Unfortunately, the use of firearms during a violent crime or mass shooting has taken on a life of its own. It’s hard to offer statistics and research without the discussion being politicized. I’ll try to stick to the best available data while noting that some of my sources are a tad dated yet very reliable.

You didn’t ask about lethality but much of the current discussion involves high-caliber weapons. Just note that high caliber doesn’t necessarily mean a discussion of assault weapons or rifles. Numerically, it means that handguns have become more powerful.

Per an effort during the 1970s-1980s, cheap handguns (referred to as Saturday Night Specials) were discouraged as a crime control effort.  People thought that getting rid of cheap handguns (which were replaced by more powerful handguns) was a good idea.

The Vast Majority Of Violent Crimes Do Not Involve Firearms

  1. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the US Department of Justice between 1993 and 2001, “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.”

Estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) indicate that approximately 26% of the average annual 8.9 million violent victimizations were committed by offenders armed with a weapon. About 10% of violent victimizations involved a firearm. About 26 percent of robberies and 31 percent of aggravated assaults involved a firearm, such as handguns, shotguns or rifles,

Yes, it’s older data but the numbers are enormous and the methodology is sound thus BJS data is applicable for decades beyond its publication.

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  1. Per the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System for 2018 states that the majority of violent crime does not involve the use of firearms. Except for homicides, most violent crimes involved personal weapons or knives or blunt objects or motor vehicles with large numbers falling into the “other” or “unknown weapons” categories.

There were 86,210 assaults involving firearms versus 1,22,640 non-firearm assaults. There were 33,436 robberies with firearms versus 46,276 with knives, personal weapons, all others, and no weapon/force involved. No weapon or force involved exceeds firearm use for assaults and sex offenses. Very few sex offenses involved firearms, FBI.

  1. Per a 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, about 1 in 5 (21%) of all state and federal prisoners reported that they had possessed or carried a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were serving time in prison. More than 1 in 8 (13%) of all prisoners had used a firearm by showing, pointing, or discharging it during the offense for which they were imprisoned.

About 70 percent of all homicides and eight percent of all nonfatal violent victimizations (rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault) were committed with a firearm, mainly a handgun. A handgun was used in about 7 in 10 firearm homicides in 2011, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

  1. Most individuals who engaged in mass shootings used handguns (77.2%), and 25.1% used assault rifles in the commission of their crimes. Of the known mass shooting cases (32.5% of cases could not be confirmed), 77% of those who engaged in mass shootings purchased at least some of their guns legally, while illegal purchases were made by 13% of those committing mass shootings. In cases involving K-12 school shootings, over 80% of individuals who engaged in shootings stole guns from family members, National Institute of Justice.

 Are Firearm Homicides At Record Levels?

Per Pew, about eight-in-ten U.S. murders in 2021–20,958 out of 26,031, or 81% – involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records. Gun murders, in particular, have climbed sharply during the pandemic, increasing 45% between 2019 and 2021.

While 2021 saw the highest total number of gun deaths in the U.S., this statistic does not take into account the nation’s growing population. On a per capita basis, there were 14.6 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2021–the highest rate since the early 1990s, but still well below the peak of 16.3 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 1974.

The gun murder rate in the U.S. remains below its peak level despite rising sharply during the pandemic. There were 6.7 gun murders per 100,000 people in 2021, below the 7.2 recorded in 1974, Pew.

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Has Violent Crime Increased?

If there is more violent crime, there will be more firearm-related assaults.

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI, violence remains flat for the country for the last full reporting period in 2021. However, there is a considerable amount of evidence stating that urban crime has increased considerably. Per The Major Chiefs Association for 2022, compared to 2019 midyear figures, cities experienced a 50% increase in homicides and a roughly 36% increase in aggravated assaults. There are additional reputable sources stating that urban violence increased in 2021. Increasing urban violence and growing homicides mean more firearm-related violence. 2021 was the last full reporting period from the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

What Weapons Are Used During Street Crime Compared To Mass Shootings?

From all available data, handguns are the weapon of choice for mass and street shootings per the data below.

 77 Percent of Mass Shootings Involve Handguns

The overwhelming majority of mass shootings (77 percent) involve handguns, not assault weapons per a research project from the National Institute of Justice.

Firearms Used in Mass Shootings

It is common for multiple firearms to be involved in public shootings: Various studies have indicated that multiple firearms were involved in an estimated 34 percent of active shooting incidents across 2000–2017, 42 percent of mass public shooting incidents across 1999–2013, and 79 percent of mass public shooting incidents that resulted in eight or more fatalities across 1966–2019.

In an analysis of mass public shootings in which shooters attempted to kill at least four individuals, Capellan and Jiao (2019) found that 80 percent of offenders had prior access to a firearm, although 41 percent of those individuals obtained additional firearms for the incident.

Handguns are the firearm most commonly involved in active shootings and mass shootings; semiautomatic rifles or “assault-style” weapons are used in an estimated 10 to 36 percent of active shootings and mass shootings.

The use of large-capacity magazines (LCMs) is more common in mass public shootings and high-fatality mass shooting incidents than it is in firearm crimes overall. The estimated prevalence of LCM involvement in mass shootings ranges from 20 to 60 percent, or from 45 to 60 percent when restricting the denominator to mass public shootings or high-fatality mass shootings.

For comparison, LCM-equipped firearms are estimated to constitute 22 to 36 percent of crime guns recovered by police in most urban jurisdictions, National Institute Of Justice-Rand.

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Assault Weapons

When counting incidents involving an assault weapon or semiautomatic rifle per year, it ranges from 10 to 44, National Institute Of Justice-Rand.

Lethality (From CNN)

About 57% of firearm fatalities in 2021 occurred at the scene of the shooting, up 9% since 1999, according to a research letter published Wednesday in the JAMA Surgery journal. For this analysis, researchers used data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and excluded suicides and other self-inflicted firearm injuries. Nearly 49,000 people died from firearm injuries in the US in 2021, CDC data shows – an unprecedented surge of about 23% over two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And a shift in the type of firearms that are being bought and used is a key factor making shootings more lethal, experts say. Federal data shows that handguns are the most common murder weapon, used in more than half of all homicides that involve firearms. But rifles, such as the AR-15, are becoming more frequently used.

Nearly 4% of firearm homicides in 2021 involved a rifle, killing 447 people, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s more than twice as many deaths and nearly twice as common compared to firearm homicides in 2015, CNN.

Lethality (From The New York Times)

Over recent decades, the size of bullets fired by the typical handgun has increased.

Changes in design have made it easier to fire big bullets from concealable weapons, and manufacturers have marketed more powerful guns as better tools for self-defense. In the 1970s and 1980s, the guns most commonly used in crime tended to be revolvers or small, inexpensive pistols that fired .22-caliber rounds, so-called for their 0.22-inch diameter.

But regulations meant to reduce crimes committed with these cheap, disposable guns, sometimes called “Saturday night specials,” pushed them out of gun stores. And advances in gun technology caused a new generation of weapons to hit the market — and eventually the streets. The newer guns, which started to become common in the 1990s, were semi-automatic. They could fire multiple rounds more quickly, and tended to be able to store more bullets in their magazines, meaning they required less reloading in long shootouts, The New York Times.

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How Many Mass Shootings?

There are multiple definitions of mass shootings promulgated by a variety of organizations.

From The Crime Report: “A shooting at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas on Saturday has left at least eight dead and seven injured, Michael James reports for USA Today. The gunman was shot and killed by a police officer. It is the 200th mass shooting in the US this year…”

From the Washington Post: “So far in 2023, the United States has recorded 22 mass killings including guns, which collectively have resulted in at least 115 deaths.”

So the total is either 200 or 22 and is usually based on the number killed excluding the shooter. The lack of a clear-cut definition greatly hampers our understanding of mass shootings. Most mass shootings are criminal in nature and do not include the indiscriminate killings of strangers. That’s compared to “public” mass shootings where the assailant targets unknown people.

So questions as to weapons used depend on how you define mass shootings.


Nearly 4% of firearm homicides in 2021 involved a rifle per the FBI via CNN.

The overwhelming majority of mass shootings (77 percent) involve handguns per the National Institute of Justice. Multiple weapons are common.

Handguns are the firearm most commonly involved in active shootings and mass shootings; semiautomatic rifles or “assault-style” weapons are used in an estimated 10 to 36 percent of active shootings and mass shootings per the National Institute of Justice.

Where the overwhelming amount of publicity and public concern is focused on assault weapons, handguns are connected to the overwhelming number and percentage of mass and street shootings.

As to lethality, the increase in firearm death rates in the US has been attributed to many factors, including higher gun sales, social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and lack of new federal firearm legislation per media coverage.

Studies suggest that both the risk and lethality of firearm injuries have increased, partly due to larger magazine capacity and the growing use of high-caliber weapons, Journal Of The American Medical Association.

Beyond the above, we get into constitutional issues protecting handguns with courts findings many (not all) restrictions are unconstitutional. The definition of an assault weapon is subject to interpretation. Some will state that the lethality of a semi-automatic hunting rifle with multiple magazines can be just as deadly as assault weapons. Others suggest that constitutional protections as they apply to handguns, high-powered hunting rifles, and shotguns allow a steady supply of firearms beyond any proposal to ban assault weapons.

Per media sources, there are approximately 350-400 million firearms in private hands in the United States.

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Definitions regarding gun terminology may be useful.

Note that definitions of mass shootings vary greatly along with private and public mass shootings. The documents from the National Institute of Justice (above) will prove useful as to terminology.

An Associated Press article discusses the difficulties involved in enforcing red flag laws.

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See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

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Op/Ed: Gun Violence, Firearms Used During Mass Shootings And Street Crimes


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