Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Private citizens rarely use guns to kill criminals or stop crimes, a new study from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) finds.
The study, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, shows that private citizens are far more likely to use guns to harm others or themselves than to use them to kill in self-defense. The study finds that in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, there were only 259 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm and that 13 states reported zero justifiable firearm homicides that year. That same year, there were 8,342 criminal firearm homicides.
Comparing these numbers, in 2012 for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 32 criminal homicides. And this ratio does not even take into account the tens of thousands of lives needlessly lost in gun suicides and unintentional shootings that year.
"The NRA has staked its entire agenda on the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense, but this gun industry propaganda has no basis in fact," states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. "Guns are far more likely to be used in a homicide than in a justifiable homicide by a private citizen. In fact, a gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense."
In addition, only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime or property crime employ guns for self-defense. Over a five-year period, less than one percent of victims of attempted or completed violent crimes used a firearm, and only a tenth of one percent of victims of attempted or completed property crimes used a firearm.
The study analyzes data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program's Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and cites survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).
"We hope legislators in every state will stop believing the self-defense myth and look at the facts," says Julia Wyman, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence. "Guns do not make our families or communities safer."
The study's findings include:
We Interrupt This Article with an Urgent Message!
Common Dreams is a not-for-profit news service. All of our content is free to you - no subscriptions; no ads. We are funded by donations from our readers.
Our critical Mid-Year fundraiser is going very slow - only 612 readers have contributed so far. We must meet our goal before we can end this fundraising campaign and get back to focusing on what we do best.
"Purchasing a gun may help enrich the firearms industry, but the facts show it is unlikely to increase your personal safety," Sugarmann adds. "In fact, in a nation of more than 300 million firearms, it is striking how rarely guns are used in self-defense."
The full study is available at https://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable15.pdf.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC) works to stop gun death and injury through research, education, advocacy, and collaboration. Founded in 1988 by Executive Director Josh Sugarmann, a native of Newtown, Connecticut, the VPC informs the public about the impact of gun violence on their daily lives, exposes the profit-driven marketing and lobbying activities of the firearms industry and gun lobby, offers unique technical expertise to policymakers, organizations, and advocates on the federal, state, and local levels, and works for policy changes that save lives. The VPC has a long and proven record of policy successes on the federal, state, and local levels, leading the National Rifle Association to acknowledge us as "the most effective ... anti-gun rabble-rouser in Washington."
"These killer cops have got to go," chanted demonstrators in Chicago who carried signs that read, "Justice for Tyre Nichols" and "End police terror."
This is a developing story… Please check back for possible updates...
People took to the streets across the United States Friday night after the city of Memphis, Tennessee released videos of a January 7 traffic stop that led to five police officers being fired and charged with the murder of 29-year-old Black motorist Tyre Nichols.
The Memphis-based Commercial Appealreported that protesters advocating for police reform shut down the Interstate 55 bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas:
As of 8:30 pm, more than 100 people remained on the Harahan Bridge with protest leaders saying they wanted to talk with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis before disbanding. MPD officers closed off roads leading to the bridge―and several others downtown―but had not directly confronted protesters.
Protesters started moving off of the bridge around 9:00 pm. As they marched eastbound on E.H. Crump Boulevard towards police, they locked arms and chanted "we ready, we ready, we ready for y'all." Protestors then turned north, toward central downtown. As they passed by residences, some people came out on their balconies to cheer.
Surrounded by protestors on I-55, NBC News' Priscilla Thompson said that "they are chanting, they are calling the name of Tyre Nichols. They are calling for change."
\u201c"They are chanting, they are calling the name of Tyre Nichols."\n\n@PriscillaWT reports from protests on a Memphis highway after the release of a video showing the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols. https://t.co/KYY7bFKvMQ\u201d— NBC News (@NBC News) 1674868123
Demonstrators and the Nichols family have called for disbanding the MPD Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) team that launched in 2021 and was involved in the traffic stop. The Memphis mayor said Friday afternoon that the unit has been inactive since Nichols' January 10 death.
The footage shows that after police brutally beat Nichols—pushing him to the ground; using pepper spray; punching and kicking him; and striking him with a baton—it took 22 minutes from when officers said he was in custody for an ambulance to arrive and take him to the hospital, where he later died from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
\u201c#Breaking LIVE: Memphis protesters block traffic on Old Bridge on I-55 call for justice for Tyre Nichols and out about #PoliceBrutality. "Please don't shoot me dead. I got my hands above my head." \n\nFull Video: https://t.co/ddGVpjTe29\n\n#JusticeforTyreNichols #TyreNichols\u201d— Status Coup News (@Status Coup News) 1674870579
In Georgia, though Republican Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this week signed an executive order enabling him to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops "as necessary" following protests in Atlanta over law enforcement killing 26-year-old forest defender Manuel "Tortuguita" Teran, those who gathered after the video release Friday night "expressed outrage but did so peacefully."
That's according toThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which detailed that "a small but spirited crowd" of roughly 50 people formed in downtown Atlanta.
"We want to make one thing very clear, no executive order and no National Guard is going to stop the people for fighting for justice," Zara Azad said at the corner of Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive. "We do not fear them because we are for justice."
\u201c#Memphis chief, Davis, also led Atlanta\u2019s REDDOG unit, which was disbanded after being sued for excessive force. https://t.co/2TUvnaJ7Gw\u201d— Atlanta Community Press Collective (@Atlanta Community Press Collective) 1674877239
Just before the footage was released Friday, a vigil was held at "The Embrace" statue installed on Boston Common to honor Rev. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King.
The Boston Globereported that Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston, which installed the monument, highlighted that the civil rights icon was assassinated while visiting Memphis in 1968 to advocate for sanitation workers whose slogan was "Am I a man?"
"Today we are thinking about Memphis and Brother Tyre, and the slogan of today is still, 'Am I a man?'" Jeffries said. "Seeing the humanity in each of us is the cornerstone of true change. Experiencing another heinous display reminds us that no family should feel this pain, ever. And there's still work to do."
"This is a problem that confronts us all," he added. "This is a problem that we need to defeat together, as a family, as a community."
\u201c\u201cThey executed him!\u201d\n\nProtests erupt across the country in wake of video showing brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols in TN. Protesters in Boston last night called for justice. \n\nDetails on another demonstration today in Boston on @boston25 from 8-10 AM\u201d— Julianne Lima (@Julianne Lima) 1674912243
"From Memphis to Chicago, these killer cops have got to go," chanted about a dozen people who gathered near a police precinct in the Illinois city despite freezing temperatures, according toUSA TODAY. Their signs read, "Justice for Tyre Nichols" and "End police terror."
Kamran Sidiqi, a 27-year-old who helped organize the protest—one of the multiple peaceful gatherings held throughout the city—told the newspaper that "it's tough to imagine what justice is here because Tyre is never coming back."
"That's someone's son, someone's friend lost forever. That's a human being's life that is gone," he said. "But a modicum of justice would be putting these killer cops in jail. A modicum of justice would be building a whole new system so that this can't happen again."
\u201cAna Santoyo, 33, a Chicago native running for alderperson, said the killing is another reminder that police brutality is pervasive in the U.S. \u201cIt\u2019s not just bad apples. It\u2019s the whole bunch,\u201d she said.\n\nhttps://t.co/7xnFV94oo0\u201d— Ana Santoyo for Alderperson (@Ana Santoyo for Alderperson) 1674875708
In Texas, The Dallas Morning Newsreported that Dominique Alexander, founder of the Next Generation Action Network, called Nichols' death a "total disregard for life, for humanity."
"The culture of policing is what is allowing these officers to feel like they can take our lives," Alexander said. "We want peace and calm in our communities, and we will do whatever is necessary to demand justice so our children don't have to deal with the same bullcrap we are dealing with now."
Around two dozen people who came together outside the Dallas Police Department headquarters Friday night shouted, "No justice, no peace" and "No good cops in a racist system," and held signs that said, "Stop the war on Black America" and "Justice for Tyre Nichols," according to the newspaper.
\u201cAt a Friday night protest at the Dallas Police Department headquarters, community organizer Shenita Cleveland recounted the events shown in the recently released body cam footage of Tyre Nichols' fatal beating by Memphis police officers.\n\nRead more here: https://t.co/L4y13l0m3S\u201d— Dallas Morning News (@Dallas Morning News) 1674872544
The Detroit branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) organized a Friday rally featuring speeches and a moment of silence. Michiganders held signs that declared, "Unions against police murder" and "Systems of racist police, violence must end."
"I'd like to see a civilian oversight board in every city, community control of the police department," 30-year-old Cameron Harrison, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 who attended the rally, told the Detroit Free Press.
"I'd like to see funding go away from weapons and [go to] jobs, housing, and water," said Harrison, adding that he does not need to watch the footage released from Memphis to know "what the police are capable of."
\u201c\u201cWe\u2019re tired, and we are sick and tired of being sick and tired,\u201d said Detroit activist Sammie Lewis, referencing a quote by civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer. https://t.co/LJwCyXBozI\u201d— Ron Fournier (@Ron Fournier) 1674902324
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
A demonstration outside the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) headquarters became "tense" late Friday after a "protest march grew out of a candlelight vigil for Nichols and
Keenan Anderson, who died this month after L.A. police pinned him to the ground and discharged a Taser on him at least six times in 42 seconds," according to the Los Angeles Times.
\u201cRodney King's daughter spoke on the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, drawing parallels to the brutality her father suffered at the hands of Los Angeles police officers more than 30 years ago.\nhttps://t.co/WzChVV74nN\u201d— NBCBLK (@NBCBLK) 1674912610
The videos of Memphis police brutalizing Nichols have provoked comparisons to the 1991 footage of LAPD officers brutally beating Rodney King—who survived the assault but died in 2012.
"My dad didn't die that night, but a big part of him did that we never got back," Lora Dene King, who was seven years old when her father was abused by police, toldNBC News this week. She said that Nichols' death was "very triggering" for her and part of a "repetitive pattern" that includes her father, Eric Garner, and George Floyd.
"The whole situation is sickening to me, there is no reason he shouldn't be alive," she said of Nichols. "It'll just be another hashtag and we'll go on with our lives, and then it'll happen again."
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
In New York City, "protests were mostly peaceful, but emotions ran high," reported a local ABC affiliate, noting three arrests.
According to the outlet:
Demonstrators held up signs, chanting: "What's his name? Tyre! Say his name. Tyre!"
They demonstrated at Grand Central Terminal and Union Square, and crisscrossed the city, eventually bringing the Crossroads of the World to a screeching halt.
"When is this gonna end?" Bronx resident Chris Campbell said of police killings during a street interview with a CBS reporter.
\u201cHundreds of New Yorkers protested Friday after the Tyre Nichols video was released. People told us they felt angry, but also dejected.\n @CBSNewYork \n\nhttps://t.co/4MnQQ7yaM1\u201d— Ali Bauman (@Ali Bauman) 1674881988
"It's absolutely disgusting," PSL organizer Talia Gile said of the footage during a Friday speech in Philadelphia's Center City. "It shows the complete and utter disregard for human life. It shows the fact that police, no matter what their race is, are going to terrorize people because that's what the system is meant to do. It's meant to abuse its power against citizens."
\u201cMore people have joined the rally. The demonstrators have now taken to 15th Street to march\u201d— Matt Petrillo (@Matt Petrillo) 1674864793
Five former MPD cops, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr.—who are all Black—were charged with second-degree murder and other crimes related to Nichols' death on Thursday.
After the videos were released Friday, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced that two deputies "who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols" have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
The Oregonianreported that in Portland on Friday night, "People kept mostly to sidewalks but blocked the Burnside Bridge for a few minutes as they stood to honor Nichol."
"The marchers chanted 'Whose lives? Black lives!' 'No justice, no peace,' and 'Say his name—Tyre Nichols!'" the newspaper added. "Some people knocked down road barriers but there were none of the clashes with police that had marked many of the nights of unrest in Portland after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis."
\u201cThe group dispersed where they began at Burnside Skatepark. And while the demonstrators have gone home, their messages of solidarity remain\u201d— Joelle Jones (@Joelle Jones) 1674881040
Protests were held in the nation's capital Friday night on K Street Northwest and at Lafayette Square.
"It should not take the releasing of body cam footage of a Black man being murdered by police for people to jump to action, and for those who feel moved by this, and you should, ‘cause it could be any one of us standing out here today," said one speaker at the former event. "We urge you to not only protest, to not only engage on social media, to not only be flabbergasted and distraught and angry, but to take action."
\u201cA justice for Tyre Nichols rally is underway at Lafayette Square in DC following the release of bodycam video footage.\n\nWATCH LIVE HERE: https://t.co/5E4OZ2uhlU\u201d— 7News DC (@7News DC) 1674868085
Additional protests were planned for the weekend. The group ColorOfChange shared resources for demonstrators on Twitter:
\u201cIf you\u2019re protesting in Atlanta or Memphis, stay safe using these resources:\n\n\u2705 Direct action training w/ @BlkDirectAction: https://t.co/dpxF1iaDH2\n\u2705 @EqualityLabs' digital protest resilience guide: https://t.co/RFszqUAD6d\n\u2705 Collective action toolkit: https://t.co/7ZY3wGcJRt\u201d— ColorOfChange (@ColorOfChange) 1674865865
"Tyre Nichols was a father to a 4-year-old boy, a son, a skateboarder, a beloved member of his community. And he was murdered after complying while the cameras were rolling," ColorOfChange president Rashad Robinson said in a series of tweets Friday. "Cosmetic 'solutions' like body cameras will not prevent the police from taking Black lives, nor will hiring Black police officers without reforming the overall racist, violent system."
"Now," he argued, "we must make sure the Memphis City Council takes action to end the practice of pretextual stops, hold officers accountable, eliminate the [Organized Crime Unit] and the SCORPION task force that killed Tyre, and fund a civilian response unit."
"Charging or jailing the killers is not enough," said the national director of the Working Families Party. "Justice is changing the conditions so no one dies during a traffic stop."
Editor's note: The videos at the end of this article contain graphic and violent content.
The city of Memphis, Tennessee on Friday night released four videos of the January 7 arrest of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black motorist who died after being beaten by five officers who were subsequently fired and charged with murder.
The footage was privately seen by Nichols' family on Monday. Three of the videos are from body-worn cameras issued by the Memphis Police Department (MPD). Another is from a camera mounted on a pole and contains no audio.
Before the videos were released, MPD Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis warned that they show "acts that defy humanity."
Nichols was pulled over by Memphis officers for alleged reckless driving that Davis has since said her department has been "unable to substantiate." After three days in the hospital, he died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
\u201cA young father, son, skateboarder, a photographer. This is who Tyre Nichols was.\n\nHe should still be alive today.\nhttps://t.co/JbsgEMTxMI\u201d— Vera Institute of Justice (@Vera Institute of Justice) 1674862160
"I am disturbed and disgusted by the sheer brutality and lack of humanity on display in the footage released today," said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement Friday night. "No person should ever be subjected to such violence, to have to call for their mother as they are being brutalized by police."
"This video is a stark reminder that in America, on any day of the week, a Black person can be brutally beaten to death less than a hundred feet from his home by those who are supposedly here to 'serve and protect' our communities," he continued. "Let me be clear—a traffic stop should not result in the brutal death of an unarmed man—period."
\u201cCPC Chair @RepJayapal and CPC Policing, Constitution, Equity Task Force Chair @RepBonnie echo community demands for justice for Tyre Nichols and call for fundamentally reimagining public safety in their statement on the release of the body camera footage of his killing.\u201d— Progressive Caucus (@Progressive Caucus) 1674865377
As Common Dreamsreported Thursday, former MPD cops Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr.—who are all Black—were charged with second-degree murder and various other crimes.
In a series of tweets responding to the charges, ColorOfChange president Rashad Robinson said Friday, "Let's be clear, while the mass movement of people demanding some level of accountability has succeeded in this one instance, convictions aren't the goal."
"WE WANT AN END TO POLICE MURDERS OF BLACK PEOPLE. So, this moment isn't about Black vs. white, it's about blue vs. Black. Diversity cannot and does not solve systemic problems," he continued. "If we don't change the structure of policing and safety in our country, Black people will continue to be killed, by police of all races. The evidence is clear—investing in communities will keep us safe, not the police."
\u201cCharging or jailing the killers is not enough. Justice is changing the conditions so no-one dies during a traffic stop.\n\nPolicing is fundamentally broken. Trading white officers for Black ones was never a solution.\n\nIf we're serious about public safety, we'll fund our communities\u201d— Maurice Moe Mitchell \ud83d\udc3a (@Maurice Moe Mitchell \ud83d\udc3a) 1674866194
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Friday evening that "Tyre's death is a bitter reminder of the Black lives that we've lost due to police brutality. Thirty years ago, we were horrified by the footage of police beating Rodney King. And yet, despite our decades of protest, we're still fighting the same battle."
"The only difference now is more of the horrific incidents are being captured on video, whether it be bodycams or bystanders," he added. "Tinkering at the margins of a violent police state is not enough. It never was. This death must amount to more than just another viral moment or hashtag. It must spark a serious reconsideration and shifting of priorities, deployment, and resources."
Before the footage was released, major cities across the United States were preparing for potential Friday evening protests.
According toThe Associated Press:
As a precaution, Memphis-area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed an event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures included the city power company’s community offices and the University of Memphis.
Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the "horrific" nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
"I don't want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that's not what my son stood for," she said Thursday. "If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully."
Noting that "there's been a lot of focus on the perceived threat of violence,"MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit Memphis newsroom, on Friday published a collection of stories and columns "to add context to this tragedy" for those who may be unfamiliar with "the antagonistic relationship police have cultivated with the community, dating back decades."
The coalition Decarerate Memphis shared on Twitter demands from Nichols' family and the community, including reforms to reduce the chances of similar future events.
\u201c\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8 Save and share everywhere. We demand #JusticeforTyreNichols\u201d— Decarcerate Memphis (@Decarcerate Memphis) 1674851240
The Movement for Black Lives tweeted advice on "how to limit viewing sensitive content" on social media platforms, for those who do not want to be traumatized by the footage.
\u201cToday a video of Tyre Nichols\u2019 murder will be released. Do not share it. Do not traumatize our people further by putting it in front of us. We feel the overwhelming rage and grief without subjecting ourselves to a video of his life being taken.\nTo protect yourself online: \u2b07\ufe0f\u201d— Movement 4 Black Lives (@Movement 4 Black Lives) 1674850469
"We grieve with Tyre's family, friends, and the entire Memphis community," the movement said in a statement. "Had those officers not pulled Tyre over, he would be here right now with his four-year-old son, taking photos of sunsets and skateboarding. Yet, even as we try to grieve and stand in solidarity with Tyre's family, we know the police are ramping up to criminalize our actions—meeting our calls for justice and accountability with more state violence and suppression."
Editor's note: The videos below contain graphic and violent content.
"These lobbyists are not getting hired to advocate for American energy consumers—they will push an agenda that benefits the new majority's donors no matter what it costs taxpayers."
An analysis published Friday by the nonpartisan watchdog Accountable.US revealed that numerous former fossil fuel lobbyists are being hired to work for the Republican-controlled 118th Congress, including in high-level positions on the House Natural Resources Committee.
"As the Republicans majority begins the new Congress, former oil industry lobbyists will have new and growing influence as top staffers for congressmen on key committees," the analysis states.
Accountable.US detailed the close ties between Nancy Peele—chief of staff to House Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)—and fossil fuel interests.
"It's no surprise that Big Oil is infiltrating the halls of Congress after spending millions to elect some of the most extreme legislators in American history."
Peele's history includes:
Majority Leader Steve Scalise's [R-La.] Chief of Staff Megan Bel Miller came to Scalise's office straight out of working as an oil and gas lobbyist... Miller lobbied Congress on behalf of National Oceans Industry Association, a group representing the offshore oil and gas industry. Bel Miller advocated for polluting industry interests on numerous conservation issues, including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and offshore leasing. Majority Whip Tom Emmer's [R-Minn.] new Policy Director Ian Foley is an energy and mining lobbyist. In 2022, Foley lobbied Congress on behalf of the uranium mining industry and public utilities with oil and gas portfolios.
These are but a handful of the many examples of the revolving door between Big Oil and Congress highlighted in the analysis.
"It's no surprise that Big Oil is infiltrating the halls of Congress after spending millions to elect some of the most extreme legislators in American history," Accountable.US energy and environment director Jordan Schreiber said in a statement. "These lobbyists are not getting hired to advocate for American energy consumers—they will push an agenda that benefits the new majority's donors no matter what it costs taxpayers."
Underscoring the analysis' findings, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation that would require the federal government to lease a portion of public lands and waters for fossil fuel extraction for each non-emergency drawdown of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The bill was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was the top recipient of oil and gas PAC money in the House Republican caucus during the last election cycle.
\u201cNEW: MAGA Republicans in Congress just passed a bill that would obstruct one of @POTUS\u2019 only powers to protect consumers from Big Oil\u2019s price gouging\u2014letting oil companies get rich at Americans\u2019 expense. https://t.co/pcwPGdVkIs\u201d— Accountable.US (@Accountable.US) 1674844979