What FBI data can tell us about killer's motives

There are a lot of reasons for most of us to be very critical of the FBI. It’s not like they’re not going out of their way to do so lately. That said, they provide a lot of interesting data.


Sure, there are problems with that as well.

However, it’s better than nothing.

Stumbling around the internet, I came across the FBI’s data for “murder circumstances.” It’s basically data on why killers kill people.

I figured we should talk a bit about this because, well, there are things we can take away from it to inform our training, tactics, as well as how we approach gun control.

The data comes from 2019, which is the most recent year available from the FBI. Depressing, I know, but here we are.

The FBI breaks down killers’ motives a number of ways. The first is “Felony,” “Suspected felony,” and “Other than felony.” In other words, those that are part of another crime, those suspected as part of another crime, and those that weren’t part of any other crime.

From there, they break them down into other types that we’ll get into in a moment.

Out of 13,927 total homicides included in the data, the killers were involved in some other felony just 2,012 times. These include all the crimes you think of as felonies other than homicides, obviously. Burglary, robbery, drugs, and so on.

That’s right. While we always envision the robbery or drug deal gone bad, it actually doesn’t happen all that often in a nation of almost 330 million people. It just seems like it happens more often.

Another 141 homicides were of the suspected felony type, so it seems law enforcement tends to have a pretty good idea of what went down, even if they don’t know who did it.


In addition, 5,744 are categorized as “unknown,” which is super helpful.

That leaves 6,030 homicides not associated with any other felony offense.

Now, understand, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other crimes involved, just not those that are categorized here as felonies.

For example, domestic violence homicides fall into this category. We also know that domestic violence is a huge problem and we keep hearing about how bad domestic homicides are as an issue, which is why we need still more gun control

However, that only happened 88 times in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong, none of them should have happened. In fact, that can be said about pretty much every homicide we’re going to talk about here, but especially these. There’s just no excuse for domestic violence.

That said, we’re a nation of 330 million people. We’re going to see some degree of it and some of those are going to turn fatal. The fact that domestic violence killers aren’t more prevalent is something of a miracle.

Gangs fall under the category of “other than felony,” believe it or not. Mostly because being in a gang is not necessarily felonious.

I’ve argued that much of the homicide problem we have in this country is because of gangs. However, according to the FBI, there were only 274 gangland killings in 2019. However, this may also cover things like the mafia and drug cartel murders.


Juvenile gangs, which will include at least some street gang homicides, accounted for 292 murders.

Of course, here we run into a bit of confusion. After all, this is about killers’ motives, not their affiliation. I suspect if we looked at that, we’d see gang members carrying out a lot more homicides. Why? because of the biggest non-felony motive we’ve seen: Arguments.

The single biggest subset of any motive has been arguments. And not necessarily about money or something like that, either. No, that’s a whole different category. A total of 3,410 homicides were attributed to arguments the victims had gotten into with the killers.

Almost a third of those were arguments between acquaintances.

In fact, across the board, you’re more likely to face an acquaintance as a potential killer than any other kind of relationship, including a perfect stranger, regardless of the motive.

So, this is all interesting, but so what? How can any of us use this information?

Well, for one thing, we can remember that when anti-gunners talk about domestic violence homicides, they’re talking about fewer than half a percent of all homicides in this country.

It also means targeting gangs in an effort to reduce violent crime may not have the impact some of us (read: me) originally thought.

Further, it seems that a high percentage of homicides don’t happen anywhere that you may be expecting trouble. While this doesn’t provide us with information as to where these shootings take place, if you’re with acquaintances, it’s probably not the bad part of town in the middle of the night on a dark and lonely street corner.


We should also look at this data and realize we may need to add something to our personal defense toolbox.

Look, shooting is fun and that kind of training is desperately needed. We need to learn all sorts of skills in order to be more effective with our firearms.

However, we also need to look at and study de-escalation tactics. We need to recognize when a discussion is going too far and learn how to ramp it down so it doesn’t turn deadly. After all, even if you have your gun, unless you’re watching the other party all night long, they’ll probably have an opportunity to get you before you can get them.

Having a gun then doesn’t do you a bit of good.

Remember, having a gun isn’t a talisman that wards off killers. It’s a tool.

Don’t let it be your only one.

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