Fact Check

80 Percent of Murders Involve Interpersonal Disputes

An image claims 80% of murders in 2012 were attributable to interpersonal disputes, but the supporting data are shaky.

Published Jan 11, 2016

Image Via Flickr
In 2012, 80% of murders stemmed from otherwise law-abiding citizens involved in interpersonal disputes.
What's True

In 2012, only 14.4% of murders occurred during the commission of other crimes.

What's False

In 2012, 80% of murders were definitively attributable to interpersonal disputes.

The above-reproduced image was forwarded to us in early January 2016, with its text reading as follows:

It is "law-abiding" citizens with guns that commit the majority of gun homicides. In 2012 80% of murders were not during the commission of other crimes, but due to arguments between two people who already knew each other.

The meme quickly leaped from suggesting that it referenced only gun-related homicides committed by "'law-abiding' citizens with guns" to making a broader reference to all murders committed in 2012. It concluded by indicating that interpersonal disputes, not other crimes, were at the root 80 percent of all murders recorded in 2012. As its source the meme cited a 20 January 2015 Huffington Post article that maintained:

According to the FBI, from 2000 to 2012 there were slightly more than 200,000 homicide victims, of which slightly more than two-thirds
were killed with guns. This is an average of 10,400 gun homicides each year, a remarkably-stable number over the past thirteen years ... The degree to which homicide grows out of personal disputes is shown by the fact that of the total murders committed in 2012, only slightly more than 20 percent took place during the commission of other crimes. The rest happened because people who knew each other, and in most cases knew each other on a long-term, continuous basis, got into an argument about money, or who dissed who, or who was sleeping with someone else, or some other dumb thing. And many times they were drunk or high on drugs, but no matter what, like Walter Mosley says, "sooner or later" the gun goes off.

The linked word "happened" led off-site to the FBI's 2012 Uniform Crime Reports "Crime in the United States" statistics set. The linked data set was "Murder Circumstances by Sex of Victim," and it listed a total of 12,765 murders that occurred in the United States in 2012 (the CDC's totals for the same data set varied slightly, but proportionally so). Of that total, 1,841 murders were designated as felony-related — that is, they occurred during the commission of crimes such as rape, robbery, or burglary. In that particular breakdown, for which gun crimes were not separated, 14.4 percent of murders were attributed to the commission of unrelated crimes.

A separate table titled "Murder Victims by Weapon" tallied 8,855 of those 12,765 murders as firearms-related (broken down into handguns, shotguns, rifles, and other guns).  By those raw numbers, 69 percent of the 12,765 murders in the United States in 2012 were gun-related. Most of the remaining murders were committed with knives (1,589), blunt objects or bludgeoning (518), and "personal weapons" (defined as hands, feet, or other) at 678.

The "Murder Circumstances by Sex of Victim" table provided another number upon which the meme's claims might have been loosely based: 6,205, the number of total murders attributed to "other felony type." Those murders were broken down into categories such as arguments over money or property (148), romantic triangles (95), brawls due to the influence of alcohol (82) or narcotics (58). The largest share of that category by far was attributed to "other arguments" (3,085).

A large share of the 12,765 murders in 2012 (4,582) was described as being of "unknown" circumstances, with the balance (8,183) broken up into the categories of felony crime (1,841) and other (6,205). The combined number of murders in those categories (8,046) roughly tracks with the total number of murders minus the murders of "unknown" circumstance. So of the total 12,765 murders, 14.4 percent (1,841) were directly crime-related, 48.6 percent (4,806) were related to "interpersonal disputes" (e.g., romantic triangles, brawls, gang killings), and 35.9 percent (4,582) involved unknown causes.

Consequently, the meme's claims cannot be corroborated with any degree of certainty. The large number of murders included in the "unknown" category sufficiently muddies the waters such that the 80 percent figure is impossible to prove or disprove. If we combine the unknown category figure of 4,582 with all interpersonal disputes (a category that includes snipers, juvenile gang violence, and a whopping 1,826 unspecified "other" homicides) at 6,205, that adds up to 10,787 murders, which is 84.5 percent of all murders committed in 2012.

Some very fuzzy math is needed to allow that "80% of murders were due to arguments between two people" by lumping in murders involving "other" or "unknown" circumstances with the rest, and by employing some other quantitative tweaks. But those allowances could just as easily be attributed to other causes, which chips away at the meme's basic assertions.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

Article Tags

a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.


Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime