37

There are countless sources claiming that

There are more deaths from being attacked by hammers than by guns.

I've heard similar claims before, often with 'knives are worse in Country X' thrown in for good measure.

Is this true? Are hammers the instrument of more deaths than guns? Where does this common assertion come from?

closed as off-topic by Brythan, Sklivvz Feb 28 '18 at 10:14

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Skeptics Stack Exchange is for challenging notable claims, such as pseudoscience and biased results. This question might not challenge a claim, or the claim identified might not be notable." – Sklivvz
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    The claims are about rifles, the question is about guns. They both need to be the same. – Sklivvz Feb 28 '18 at 10:16
  • 1
    @Sklivvz The question has been mutated through several iterations. – AJFaraday Feb 28 '18 at 10:16
110

According to the FBI homicide data, there were 15,070 reported murders in the United States in 2016, 11,004 of which were victims of murder by guns: 7,105 handgun victims, 374 rifle victims, 262 shotgun victims, and 3,263 victims of murder by a different type of gun, or by an unspecified gun. In comparison, there were 472 reported victims of murder by blunt objects.

The following figure illustrates these data. The green bars correspond to the number of gun victims; rifle victims are shaded in dark green, and all other gun victims are shaded in light green. The orange bar shows the number of victims that were killed by a blunt object, and the gray bar corresponds to all remaining homicide victims. enter image description here

Thus, it's apparently not true that there are more homicides per year by hammers than by guns. The particular claim that there are more hammer homicides than rifle homicides may be true for 2016, but given that the FBI subsumes this weapon under a broader category, we cannot say for sure.

85

If you actually read the first OP article, it quotes David Keene as saying (in 2013):

You know, last year and the year before according to [2012] FBI statistics, more people in this country were beaten to death than were killed by long arms -- so-called assault weapons -- the government sought to ban...More people were killed with hammers than were killed with those guns.

And the second OP article says:

More People Killed by Hammers, Clubs & Bats Each Year Than By Rifles

The OP (in its edited condition), by generalizing to all guns, is distorting the actual claims, and inviting SE to disprove the distortion.

According to the FBI, for 2014:

Homicides were by people:

using rifles: 248

using shotguns: 262

using "Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)": 435

using "Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)": 660

(see link for other years)

So, the second claim "More People Killed by Hammers, Clubs & Bats Each Year Than By Rifles", is true.

For the first claim where it says "more people in this country were beaten to death than were killed by long arms", that is also true, and then where it says "More people were killed with hammers than were killed with those guns", the truth depends upon whether "those guns" refers to all long guns or just assault weapons which the government sought to ban.

  • 7
    Plus 1,959 for "Firearms, type not stated" and 5,562 for handguns in 2014. You missed a couple edge cases in your quote. – psr Feb 28 '18 at 1:34
  • @psr right, handguns are the main device used, followed by knives – DavePhD Feb 28 '18 at 1:43
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    +1 for noting that the asker has seriously misrepresented the claim. – Kevin Krumwiede Feb 28 '18 at 4:58
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    @psr so the actual correct answer is "maybe" depending on whether or not the "Firearms Type Not Stated" category contained >187 rifle homicides - and as they're not stated we can't know with certainty – mcottle Feb 28 '18 at 7:10
  • There is also a huge difference between "death by being attacked by a gun" and "killed by a gun". Gun suicides vastly outnumber gun murders. These suicides shouldn't be counted as "death by being attacked by a gun" but should be counted as "killed by a gun". If you are pedantic you could add that while guns can kill people, they can't attack people. (Truly pedantic you could say that guns don't kill people (usually), bullets do). – gnasher729 Mar 5 '18 at 23:59
12

The question misstates the claims of the articles in a seemingly slight manner, but it greatly affects how we would answer the question.

Neither article specifically claims that "hammers" (a very specific kind of weapon) kill more people than "guns" (a catch-all for all types of firearms). They both claim that "blunt objects" kill more than "rifles."

The nola.com headline does claim that "hammers" kill more people than "rifles", but in the body of the article, it is made clear that the author is referring to "blunt objects (hammers would be in that group)". Since the nola.com article refers specifically to the 2012 homicide data, you can see that the number of people killed that year by rifles is 298 versus 522 for blunt objects. If you assume that the rate of "rifles" within the "Firearms, type not stated" category is about 4%, consistent with ("rifles")/("firearms" - "firearms, type not stated"), you can extrapolate about 371 total murders with rifles, still significantly less than the 522 attributed to blunt objects for 2012.

The gunssavelives.net article never claims to be talking specifically about "hammers" in a specific sense nor about "guns" in a general sense, it is very clear throughout that the author is talking about the category of blunt objects ("Hammers, Clubs & Bats") versus the category of "rifles". The gunssavelives article does not cite a specific year, however it was written in early 2013, so it is possible they were looking at 2012 data.

The claim wrongfully attributed to both articles, that "hammers" specifically kill more than "guns" generally, is false.

However, the actual claim in both articles is true, although the headline of the nola.com article is either somewhat misleading, if the author genuinely thinks that the reader will understand that "hammer" is standing in for a larger category, or false if not.

If you look at the most recent data from 2016, and extrapolate the number of rifle killings within the "firearms, type not stated" category as I did with the 2012 data above the number of people killed by rifles is more than those killed by blunt objects, (about 519 killed by rifle versus 472 killed by blunt objects), but both articles are correct for the year that they claim or the year they were written in.

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    ‘Both articles are correct’ if you ignore the intentionally deceitful headline. I suspect the writer of that headline was relying on the knowledge that thousands of people would read only that and spread the article on social media. – WGroleau Feb 28 '18 at 3:01

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