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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Firearm-Associated Homicides Among Family Members, Relatives, or Friends -- Ohio

In 1985, 311 (56%) of 553 homicides in Ohio occurred among relatives or acquaintances; 191 (61%) of these 311 homicides involved the use of firearms (Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), unpublished data, 1985). To learn more about firearm homicide among persons who are closely acquainted, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Division of Epidemiology, interviewed offenders involved in homicides occurring between 1982 and 1985 that met the following six criteria: the homicide

  1. occurred in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton, or Akron; 2) occurred between family members, relatives, or friends; 3) was committed with a firearm kept in the household; 4) victim and offender were greater than or equal to18 years of age; 5) occurred in or within the immediate vicinity of a residence; and 6) was not secondary to another crime. The primary purposes of the investigation were to describe demographic characteristics of the offenders and to identify situational or environmental factors related to the homicide. Using records from the Ohio State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and police records from Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, investigators identified 105 homicides that met the above criteria. Of these, interviews were completed with 50 (48%) offenders. Of the 55 offenders who were not interviewed, 37 (67%) could not be located, 12 (22%) refused to participate, and three (5%) had died. Three (5%) interviews were not completed for other reasons. Since the Ohio homicide study included only a subset of firearm-associated homicides that occurred among family members, relatives, or friends, selected offender characteristics were compared with Ohio data from the FBI. The distribution from the Ohio homicide study approximates Ohio estimates from the FBI for median age of the offender and type of firearm used in the homicide (Table 1) (FBI, unpublished data, 1985). However, in the Ohio homicide study, offenders were less likely to be male and less likely to be white. Offenders' responses varied widely as to their perception of the single immediate cause of the homicide. Forty percent responded that some type of threatened (30%) or actual (10%) physical abuse was occurring just before the incident, regardless of whether the victim or the offender initiated the abuse. Ten percent suggested that alcohol and/or drugs was the immediate reason for the incident. Other reasons for the incident included "jealousy," "money," or "the general stresses of living together" (10%), "accidental" (12%), "other" (10%), or "unknown" (18%). Handguns were the type of firearm used in 76% of the homicides (Table 2). Less than half the offenders reported owning the firearm; only 26% reported that the weapon was purchased from a licensed dealer. Fifty-six percent of firearms were kept in the bedroom; 96% were always kept in the household in which the homicide occurred, and the remaining 4% were usually kept in the household. Self-protection was the most commonly reported (56%) purpose for obtaining the firearm. Sixty-four percent of the firearms were always kept loaded, and at least 64% were always kept in an unlocked location. Forty-four percent were always kept loaded and in an unlocked location. Thirty-eight percent of the firearms had been owned less than 1 year; 66% had been owned less than or equal to5 years. Alcohol was reported to have been consumed before the incident by 62% of the offenders, and alcohol and/or drugs, by 88% of the offenders and/or victims. Thirty percent of the offenders had the firearm in their immediate physical possession just before the incident; 54% reported drawing a firearm or some other weapon first, and 22% reported the victim drew a firearm or some other weapon first. Thirty-eight percent believed they could not have resolved the situation without the firearm, and 22% responded that the victims "dared" them. Forty-eight percent reported they did not intend to shoot the victim when they drew the weapon. Forty percent indicated that the victim was approaching them when the gun was fired, and 48% fired the weapon within 15 seconds of brandishing it. Seventy percent of the offenders reported never practicing shooting firearms; 50% recalled that their parents had owned a firearm during their childhood. Seventy-four percent indicated that just before or during the incident they did not consider that they could go to prison for using a gun. Reported by: JP Rowland, MS, RW Indian, MS, Special Studies Br, BK Mortensen, PhD, Div of Epidemiology, TJ Halpin, MD, State Epidemiologist, Bureau of Preventive Medicine, Ohio Dept of Health; FJ Holtzhauer, MS, Ambulatory Svcs, Columbus (Ohio) City Health Dept. Intentional Injury Section, Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury Epidemiology and Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

    Editorial Note

Editorial Note: This investigation by the ODH helps describe the problem of firearm- associated homicide in Ohio. Homicide is the fourth leading cause of years of potential life lost before age 65 in the United States and fifth in Ohio (1; ODH, unpublished data, 1987). In 1985, 59% of all U.S. homicides involved relatives and acquaintances (2). In Ohio, between 1979 and 1986, 63% of all homicides were committed with a firearm (ODH, unpublished data, 1988). The findings in this investigation should be interpreted with caution because the sample size was limited and restricted to homicides in six urban areas and because the sample size was further reduced as a function of the number of offenders who could be included in the study. In addition, this study investigated homicides between family members, relatives, or friends, and the results may not be generalizable to other types of homicide. However, the results from this investigation are useful in planning future investigations of possible risk factors for firearm-associated homicide among family members, relatives, or friends. In particular, several findings from this investigation suggest that the homicide was an impulsive act committed with a readily accessible firearm: in the majority of homicides, the offender and/or victim had consumed alcohol and/or drugs before the incident; approximately half the offenders fired the weapon within 15 seconds of brandishing it; approximately half the offenders did not intend to shoot the victims when they drew the weapon; and a substantial proportion of firearms used in these homicides were kept loaded and in an unlocked location. If confirmed by future research, these findings may represent possible avenues for intervention to prevent firearm-associated injuries. Four areas of study have been identified for further efforts in developing effective strategies to prevent firearm-associated injuries (3): 1) collection of information on the magnitude, characteristics, and costs of the morbidity and disability caused by firearms and on the types of firearms that inflict these injuries; 2) determination of the number, type, and distribution of firearms in the United States; 3) conduct of epidemiologic studies that quantify the individual risks of injury associated with the possession of firearms; and 4) evaluation of interventions related to firearms. Pursuit of such research strategies should improve the scientific base of information needed for further research and prevention efforts.


  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health: executive summary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1985. 2.Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform crime reports for the United States, 1985. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1986. 3.Mercy JA, Houk VN. Firearm injuries: a call for science (Editorial). N Engl J Med 1988; 319:1283-5.

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