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
or acquaintances; 191 (61%) of these 311 homicides involved the use
firearms (Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), unpublished data,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
Epidemiology, interviewed offenders involved in homicides occurring
between 1982 and 1985 that met the following six criteria: the
occurred in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton, or
Akron; 2) occurred between family members, relatives, or friends;
was committed with a firearm kept in the household; 4) victim and
offender were greater than or equal to18 years of age; 5) occurred
or within the immediate vicinity of a residence; and 6) was not
secondary to another crime. The primary purposes of the
were to describe demographic characteristics of the offenders and
identify situational or environmental factors related to the
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%)
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
with Ohio data from the FBI. The distribution from the Ohio
study approximates Ohio estimates from the FBI for median age of
offender and type of firearm used in the homicide (Table 1) (FBI,
unpublished data, 1985). However, in the Ohio homicide study,
were less likely to be male and less likely to be white.
Offenders' responses varied widely as to their perception of the
immediate cause of the homicide. Forty percent responded that some
of threatened (30%) or actual (10%) physical abuse was occurring
before the incident, regardless of whether the victim or the
initiated the abuse. Ten percent suggested that alcohol and/or
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
Handguns were the type of firearm used in 76% of the homicides
2). Less than half the offenders reported owning the firearm; only
reported that the weapon was purchased from a licensed dealer.
Fifty-six percent of firearms were kept in the bedroom; 96% were
kept in the household in which the homicide occurred, and the
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
were always kept loaded and in an unlocked location. Thirty-eight
percent of the firearms had been owned less than 1 year; 66% had
owned less than or equal to5 years.
Alcohol was reported to have been consumed before the incident by
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%
the victim drew a firearm or some other weapon first. Thirty-eight
percent believed they could not have resolved the situation without
firearm, and 22% responded that the victims "dared" them.
percent reported they did not intend to shoot the victim when they
the weapon. Forty percent indicated that the victim was approaching
them when the gun was fired, and 48% fired the weapon within 15
of brandishing it. Seventy percent of the offenders reported never
practicing shooting firearms; 50% recalled that their parents had
a firearm during their childhood. Seventy-four percent indicated
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;
Holtzhauer, MS, Ambulatory Svcs, Columbus (Ohio) City Health Dept.
Intentional Injury Section, Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury
and Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control,
Editorial Note: This investigation by the ODH helps describe the
problem of firearm- associated homicide in Ohio. Homicide is the
leading cause of years of potential life lost before age 65 in the
United States and fifth in Ohio (1; ODH, unpublished data, 1987).
1985, 59% of all U.S. homicides involved relatives and
(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
because the sample size was limited and restricted to homicides in
urban areas and because the sample size was further reduced as a
function of the number of offenders who could be included in the
In addition, this study investigated homicides between family
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
homicide among family members, relatives, or friends. In
several findings from this investigation suggest that the homicide
an impulsive act committed with a readily accessible firearm: in
majority of homicides, the offender and/or victim had consumed
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
the weapon; and a substantial proportion of firearms used in these
homicides were kept loaded and in an unlocked location. If
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
(3): 1) collection of information on the magnitude,
and costs of the morbidity and disability caused by firearms and on
types of firearms that inflict these injuries; 2) determination of
number, type, and distribution of firearms in the United States; 3)
conduct of epidemiologic studies that quantify the individual risks
injury associated with the possession of firearms; and 4)
interventions related to firearms. Pursuit of such research
should improve the scientific base of information needed for
research and prevention efforts.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Report of the
Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health: executive
Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public
Health Service, 1985.
2.Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform crime reports for the
States, 1985. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Federal
of Investigation, 1986.
3.Mercy JA, Houk VN. Firearm injuries: a call for science
N Engl J Med 1988; 319:1283-5.
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