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Hispanics and Firearms Violence

Executive Summary

Although rarely publicized, America's Hispanic population suffers from firearms violence at rates far greater than the U.S. population overall. In 1998, 72 percent of Hispanic homicide victims were killed with a firearm (compared to 74 percent of black victims and 56 percent of white victims). Among the state of California's murder victims, 77 percent of Hispanic victims were killed with a firearm—the highest percentage for any racial or ethnic group in the state.

The issue of Hispanics and firearms violence is seldom analyzed by the public, press, or policymakers. The largest obstacle in addressing this grave problem is that data collection in many states and localities is not coded for Hispanic origin—for research purposes, crime victims are registered as either black, white, Asian, American Indian, or other, but their ethnicity is not recorded. Because of this oversight, the ethnicity of many Hispanic suicide and violent crime victims is not even reported. Secondly, Hispanic firearm victims may often be overlooked because the devastating effect of firearms on blacks has resulted in less attention being paid to the virulent effect of guns on other American minorities.

Hispanics and Firearms Violence

Hispanics and Firearms Violence details the effects of firearms on the Hispanic community. The report presents all available information from national sources analyzing Hispanics and firearms, including information on criminal victimization, domestic violence, nonfatal firearm injuries, and suicide. Additionally, the report examines information from three geographic regions with large Hispanic populations and uniquely comprehensive data: the states of California and Texas, along with the city of Chicago.

With Hispanics comprising the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States, the issue of firearms violence and Hispanics should be of great concern to the entire nation. In 1999 there were more than 31 million Hispanics in the United States with an average age of 28.8 years. The Hispanic population is growing several times faster than the non-Hispanic population—more than doubling between 1980 and 1999. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, by the year 2005, Hispanics will surpass blacks as the largest minority group in the United States.

"Gun Industry Must Become Less Racist"

The gun industry has taken a special interest in the growing Hispanic population. Recognizing that Hispanics own guns at rates lower than the general population, gun manufacturers—reeling from stagnant sales among their primary market of white males—have targeted Hispanics as an untapped market. A 1997 article in the gun-industry publication Shooting Sports Retailer bluntly titled "Gun industry must become less racist to survive in the 21st century" offered one analyst's view of why Hispanics should be courted as new customers:

[A]ll of the usual customers the industry reaches (people of Northern European descent) who wanted a gun, now have one....A major effort needs to be made to include those groups who are presently referred to as America's racial and ethnic minorities, but who are rapidly becoming the majority. And there is tremendous potential within this largely untapped market.

Hispanics are far less likely than blacks or whites to own guns. Only 11 percent of Hispanics own guns, compared to 16 percent of blacks and 27 percent of whites. Yet Hispanics are murdered with firearms at rates second only to blacks.

Hispanics and Criminal Gun Violence

What is truly alarming is that Hispanics are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to be victims of violent crimes involving strangers. Homicide, both firearm- and non-firearm related, is the seventh leading cause of death among Hispanics (in contrast to whites, where homicide is the seventeenth leading cause of death) and the second leading cause of death for Hispanic youths aged 15 to 24. Hispanic targets of violent crime are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to be victimized by offenders wielding a weapon.

Hispanic females are disproportionately the targets of these violent acts. According to the 1996 Statistical Handbook of Violence in America, Hispanic women in intimate relationships suffer from the highest rate of domestic violence—181 per 1,000 couples. In comparison, white women have a domestic violence rate of 117 per 1,000, and black women have a rate of 166 per 1,000.

Hispanics and Gun Suicides

In 1997, firearms were used in 52 percent of suicides by Hispanic males. The 1997 age-adjusted firearms suicide rate for Hispanic males was 5.53 per 100,000. In contrast, firearms were used in only one third of suicides by Hispanic females, for a 1997 age-adjusted firearms suicide rate of 0.59 per 100,000.

Hispanics and Gun Injuries

Experts estimate that, in general, for every firearm fatality there are nearly three nonfatal firearm injuries. In 1997, Hispanics had a nonfatal firearm-related injury rate of 41.3 per 100,000, compared to 24.0 for the population as a whole. That year, the total firearm injury (fatal and nonfatal) rate for Hispanics was 2.8 times higher than the rate for whites. This information supports a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine study which found that Hispanics were shot (both fatally and nonfatally) at a rate 2.6 times higher than the rate for whites.

Three Regions

Hispanics and Firearms Violence examines data from three geographic regions with large Hispanic populations: California, Texas, and Chicago. Each of these three data sets offers far more comprehensive data on Hispanics and firearms violence than information gathered by any national agency or bureau. Homicide findings, for example, include not only Hispanic ethnicity, but also type of firearm, age of victim, and victim-offender relationship as detailed below:

In California, in 1998, Hispanics—

  • while only 30 percent of the total population, accounted for 44 percent of all homicide victims;

  • were murdered with a firearm in 77 percent of cases in which a weapon could be determined; and,

  • handguns were used in 70 percent of all Hispanic homicides.

In Texas, in 1998—

  • 37 percent of homicide victims were of Hispanic heritage;

  • of these victims, 67 percent were killed with firearms; and,

  • nearly 15 percent of Hispanic firearm homicide victims were 18 years of age or younger.

In Chicago, Illinois—

  • from 1965 to 1995, 13 percent of homicide victims were Hispanic;

  • of these victims, 73 percent were killed with a firearm; and,

  • a 29-year study revealed that firearms were used in 62.6 percent of Hispanic-on-Hispanic intimate partner homicides, the highest usage among all intraracial intimate partner homicides.


To more fully gauge the effect firearms have on the Hispanic community and to help identify ways to reduce gun death and injury among Hispanics, the Violence Policy Center offers this initial set of recommendations:

  • State and local surveillance agencies (public health departments, law enforcement organizations, etc.) should review their data-gathering forms to ensure that Hispanic ethnicity is easily tabulated. The Federal Bureau of Investigation should work with state Uniform Crime Report systems to identify ways in which criminal incidents involving Hispanics (as both victims and offenders) can be more accurately reported.

  • The National Vital Statistics Report should review the possibility of expanding beyond black and white as their major categories in its analyses to include Hispanics.

  • All published federal level survey results (for example, the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey) should be reviewed to identify specific studies that could be made available to the public in Spanish.

  • National, state, and local organizations working to reduce gun death and injury should work with Hispanic communities in improving data gathering regarding firearms violence and Hispanics. Such data could then be utilized by community organizations to help design violence-reduction programs and strategies.

  1. The information was gathered from the WISQAR internet program, with the statistics produced by the Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.
  2. Homicide in California (Sacramento: California Department of Justice, 1999): 76.
  3. "Resident Population Estimates of the United States by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: April 1, 1990 to November 1, 1999," (U.S. Census Bureau, United States Department of Commerce) downloaded April 14, 2000 from; INTERNET.
  4. "Census Facts for Hispanic Heritage Month," (U.S. Census Bureau, United States Department of Commerce), downloaded July 6, 2000, from; INTERNET.
  5. Bob Hausman, "Gun industry must become less racist to survive in the 21st century," Shooting Sports Retailer, January 1997, 86.
  6. Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Guns in America: Results of a Comprehensive National Survey on Firearms Ownership and Use (Washington, DC: Police Foundation, 1996), 33.
  7. Lisa D. Bastian, "Hispanic Victims," Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (January 1990): 1-10.
  8. Adam Dobrin et al., Statistical Handbook on Violence in America (Phoenix: The Oryx Press, 1996): 164.
  9. The information was gathered from the WISQAR internet program, with the statistics produced by the Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.
  10. The information was gathered from the WISQAR internet program, with the statistics produced by the Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.
  11. Joseph L. Annest, PhD, et al., "National Estimates of Nonfatal Firearm-Related Injuries: Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg," Journal of the American Medical Association 273, No. 22 (1995): 1749-1754.
  12. "Nonfatal and Fatal Firearm-Related Injuries—United States, 1993-1997," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 48, no. 45 (1999): 1029-1034.
  13. All rates with national data are age-adjusted, unless otherwise indicated.
  14. Arthur L. Kellermann, MD, MPH, et al., "Injuries Due to Firearms in Three Cities," The New England Journal of Medicine 335, no. 19 (1996): 1438-1444.
  15. Homicide in California (Sacramento: California Department of Justice, 1999): 56, 76.
  16. FBI Supplementary Homicide Report data, 1998.
  17. "Homicides in Chicago, 1965-1995," Chicago Homicide Dataset (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, University of Michigan), downloaded June 8, 1999, from; INTERNET.
  18. Carolyn Rebecca Block et al., "Intimate Partner Homicide in Chicago Over 29 Years," Crime & Delinquency 41 (October 1995): 496-526.



 All contents © 2001 Violence Policy Center


The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.