Did the FBI Say Knives are Used in Five Times More Murders than Rifles?

Claim

The FBI said that murders by rifle were five times lower than by knife, and that rifle-related homicide dropped by more than 25 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Rating

Decontextualized

Reporting

On October 1 2019 , the website AmericanMilitaryNews.com shared a post headlined, “FBI stats show 5 times more murders by knives than rifles in 2018”:

That was shared thousands of times in less than 24 hours. An additional item claimed the Federal Bureau of Investigation “indicated” knives were “five times as likely to be used [in murders]” compared to rifles:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released crime statistics for 2018, indicating knives were more than five times as likely to be used as murder than rifles were.

A fact sheet of the FBI’s 2018 crime statistics published [September 20 2019] detailed some of the Bureau’s analysis of crime statistics, particularly studying the types of weapons used in murders. Rifles, as a particular category of firearm, were used to kill 297 people in 2018. By comparison, knives and other cutting instruments were the murder weapon for 1,515 murders in 2018.

The rifle category of firearms is a broad one comprised of bolt, pump, and lever-action firearms in addition to semi-automatic firearms like AR-15s, suggesting semi-automatic rifles comprise an even smaller number than the 297 total murders by rifle in 2018.

“As a particular category of firearm” was doing a lot of work in that excerpt. Nevertheless, nearly identical claims were published by Breitbart:

FBI: Over 5 Times More Killed with Knives than Rifles

FBI crime stats for 2018 show over five times as many people were killed with knives and/or other cutting instruments than were killed with rifles. The FBI data shows a total 1,515 deaths by knives and/or other cutting instruments vs. 297 deaths by rifle in 2018.

And Pluralist:

Knives Used in 5 Times as Many Murders as Rifles: FBI Annual Report

According to the agency’s annual Uniform Crime Report, 1,515 homicides in 2018 were committed with knifes and/or other cutting instruments compared to compared to 297 with rifles. That was an even bigger gap than in 2017, when the FBI found four times as many killings by knife as by rifle.

At the same time, more than twice as many people, 672, were beaten to death last year than were killed with a rifle, the FBI reported based on nationwide law enforcement data.

And True Pundit:

FBI: Over 5 Times More Killed with Knives than Rifles

FBI crime stats for 2018 show over five times as many people were killed with knives and/or other cutting instruments than were killed with rifles.

The FBI data shows a total 1,515 deaths by knives and/or other cutting instruments vs. 297 deaths by rifle in 2018.

And Conservative Review:

Once again, deaths from knives and “personal weapons” like hands, fists, and feet were higher than the number of homicides committed with rifles. More than five times as many murders were committed with knives (1,515) as with rifles, and more than twice as many people were killed with “personal weapons” (672). Other years included in the FBI report’s table — which spans 2014-2018 — show similar disparities between the same weapon types.

In the latter article, the headline underscored the underlying point of the myriad reiterative items circulating on social media: “FBI’s annual crime report is out, and the anti-gun crowd won’t like it.”

On September 20 2019, the FBI issued a press release announcing the release of its annual report — Crime in the United States — for 2018. The agency described the report as “a statistical compilation of offense, arrest, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program,” which “collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.”

The words “rifle,” “rifles,” “gun,” “guns,” and “homicide” did not appear in the 2018 Crime in the United States press release. “Murder” appeared once, at the top of a “high-level summary of the statistics submitted”:

In 2018, there were an estimated 1,206,836 violent crimes. The estimated number of three violent crime offenses decreased when compared with estimates from 2017. Robbery offenses fell 12.0 percent, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses fell 6.2 percent, and the estimated volume of aggravated assault offenses decreased 0.4 percent. The estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses increased 2.7 percent.

In several of the excerpts above, a distinct impression was given that the FBI had contrasted rifle fatalities with knife fatalities. Some of the articles did link to Crime in the U.S. 2018 > Tables > Expanded Homicide Data Table 8. Once again, the underlying data did not contrast knife-related homicide with rifle-related homicide.

It provided totals for the number of homicides (all), at 14,123. From there, it was broken down into all firearms (10,265), all knives (1,515), all blunt objects (443), “personal weapons” (hands, fists, feet, 672), and poison (5, among additional causes). Both “knives” and “firearms” were top-level categories, and rifles (297) was a sub-category along with handguns (6,603), shotguns (235), and other guns (167).

Notably excluded from the headlines was a fifth category that was impossible to miss when contrasted with knives and rifles as primary classifications — “firearms, type not stated,” at 2,963. Of 14,123 homicides in 2018, 10,265 were gun-related, and overall homicide dropped seven percent from 15,195 in 2017 to 14,123 in 2018.

In the articles, the number of rifle-related deaths in particular was highlighted, down to 297 in 2018 from 390 in 2017; in 2017, rifle-related murders made up 2.6 percent of all homicides, a number that fell to 2.1 percent of all homicides in 2018. Another interesting part of the data involved the category of “firearms, type not stated,” which fell from 3,121 in 2017 to 2,963 in 2018. Of the 10,265 gun-related homicides in 2018, 28.8 percent were in that category, and in 2017 28.3 percent were “firearms, type not stated.”

Several articles claimed that the FBI had disclosed that rifles were five times less likely to be involved in murders than knives, one of multiple concurrent claims using cherry-picking to distort homicide statistics by focusing on rifles.

In actuality, the FBI issued its annual uniform crime statistics for 2018 in September 2019. By most metrics, the share of homicides involving guns remained about the same, as did gun murders involving rifles (between two and three percent.) Around 28 percent of gun homicides involved a firearm of unknown specificity. Overall, gun homicides numbered far more than knife-related homicides, but a smaller number of those homicides were rifle-related.