AR-15s are Mindbogglingly Safe
"Assault Weapon" homicides are so rare you need graphs to comprehend it.
It is taken as an obvious given by approximately half of the United States that we are in a massive epidemic of AR-15 homicides, and that something must be done about it. This given is not only completely false, the level of falseness of it is almost incomprehensible. Let’s try and understand exactly how false it is by using simple arithmetic.
Approximate AR-15 Homicide Deaths
Unfortunately the FBI changed the tracking rules in 2020, leading a lot of local jurisdictions to quit sending in their reports, so the last good year for which we have quality “murder circumstances” data is 2019. While the FBI did break these down by weapon type, they didn’t differentiate between AR-15s or similarly patterned rifles, and grandpa’s bolt action deer rifle. All told, in 2019 there were 364 rifle murders, out of a total of 10,258 firearm murders, accounting for approximately 3.5% of total firearm murders. Nobody uses rifles to murder people because they’re big, bulky, difficult to conceal, and a handgun can do the job just as well.
But that’s all rifles, not specifically AR-15s. What percentage of all privately owned rifles are semiautomatic with detachable box magazines, what the NSSF calls Modern Sporting Rifles and the gun controllers call Assault Weapons? It’s hard to say.
According to NSSF estimates, there are approximately 24.4 million MSRs in circulation today. That’s quite a lot, accounting for around 6% of all privately owned firearms in the country. They’re very common. How many total rifles are there? I can’t find a clean estimate. The NSSF probably knows, but I can’t find any published data on the subject more recent than 2009, where Gunpolicy.org estimates that there were 110 million total rifles out of 310 million total guns at that time. In 2009, 35% of all firearms in private domestic circulation were some kind of rifle. If we presume the ratio today stays the same, then we should have around 150 million rifles in 2019, meaning 16% of all rifles at that snapshot in time were AR-15s or similar.
How many of those 364 rifle murders were from AR-15s or similar? If we presume rifle murders are evenly distributed among rifles owned, we get 60 murders with a MSR / “Assault Weapon.” I don’t know of a better way to do it. Even if the rates were double an even distribution, it’s still only 120 murders. How do we visualize 60 murders in a country of 340 million people?
We can get a better understanding of how rare these “AR-15 murders” are if we compare our estimate of “AR-15 murders” against other extremely rare sources of death. Here’s a visualization, with sources.
AR-15 murders are somewhere between “Death By Bucket” and “Death By Lawnmower” in the United States. They’re a little bit more common than getting struck by lightning, a little over half as common as “Death By Bees,” and less than a tenth as likely as “Death By Falling Out Of Bed.” Over twice as many people kill themselves during masturbation as die from AR-15 murders, and triple the number of people die by hitting errant deer with their cars at night as are murdered by AR-15. Feel free to check the sources, they’re in the graph. I have never yet heard a politician claim we were experiencing an Epidemic of Death By Lawnmower.
These weapons are mindbogglingly safe. We have over 24 million of them in circulation, and only 60 deaths a year. This has to be one of the safest consumer products in the marketplace. Way safer than cars.
Cars are a good comparison because most of us have one, some of us have several, and nobody claims that we are living in an epidemic of car deaths. We use them all the time, and if “blaming the object for the death” is on the table then comparisons to other objects are also on the table.
There were 24.4 million MSRs / “Assault Weapons” in circulation in 2020, and 60 murders per year. That means there are 0.0000025 murders per gun, or stated another way, there is only one AR-15 murder for every four hundred thousand AR-15s in circulation.
There were 286,900,000 cars in 2020, and 38,824 motor vehicle deaths in 2020. There are therefore 0.000135 deaths per car, or stated another way, one death for every 7,390 cars.
Any given AR-15 is fifty five times less likely to be involved with killing someone than your car.
We can also redo the first chart to include things that people should actually be worried about, instead of bees and buckets and beds.
Nobody talks about all-method suicide, and they pretend that suicide isn’t the main driver of gun deaths because doing so fits their agenda. They definitely never mention that seven out of eight firearm suicides are men. Nobody talks about obesity unless it’s to praise obese celebrities and attempt to normalize it. They spend more time talking about vaping than smoking even though vaping is 95% safer and probably the most robust way to reduce smoking deaths. They do at least talk a little about cancer.
Which of these did Biden talk about in the State of the Union speech last night? Not cancer. Certainly not obesity. Definitely not suicide. Bees? Ladders?
He talked about the one between “Death by Lawnmower” and “Death by Bucket.”
Excellent write up! I especially appreciate the point about suicide and "gun deaths." Lumping suicides performed by firearm with homicides performed by firearms is a classic case of extremely misleading statistics, and I would go so far as calling it an intentional lie. People care about murders and being murdered, but the number is inflated by a huge pile of suicides for no useful reason. No useful reason aside from lying, that is.
To be fair, it may be a better comparison between guns and cars to consider miles driven per death. And then rounds fired, per death.
Actually, that probably wouldn't be fair either because I'm sure the ratio of rounds fired to deaths would be mind bogglingly one-sided as well.
Would be good number to know: for every X number of bullet wounds, Y bullets were fired without hitting anybody. You could even be charitable and count rounds fired *at* people in the same group as wounds. It would still be laughable one-sided.