What are the odds of getting shot if held up at gunpoint?
October 31, 2005 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Someone told me that there was a 9 in 10 chance of getting shot if one is held up at gunpoint. Is this true?

If the odds are this high in favor of getting shot, someone's best bet would be to try either thwarting the gunman or running like hell. I've read a few sites on the issue, but can't find any solid evidence.

Has anyone done a study on this, and what would be the best way to react to being held up at gunpoint?
posted by spiderskull to Society & Culture (26 answers total)
In my anecdotal experience (three friends have been mugged with a gun in the past year) this is wrong. None of them were shot. One was kidnapped into a car and forced to take a large sum of money out of an ATM at gunpoint (which the bank refunded, by the way), but was ultimately released unharmed. My general impression is that it's a good idea to stay calm, give them everything, and avoid getting into their car at all costs. Chances are they want your money and they'd probably prefer not to murder you.
posted by bonheur at 8:06 PM on October 31, 2005

A cop I know told me that I should run like hell if anyone ever tries to abduct me at gunpoint. He said that once you get something like 20' away from the person they have a 90% chance of missing you with a handgun.
posted by fshgrl at 8:14 PM on October 31, 2005

i was mugged at knife-point by three youths and didn't get stabbed. they got my bottle of fine wine and $5.
posted by brandz at 8:19 PM on October 31, 2005

Somehow 9 in 10 seems very high to me. If you are held at gunpoint, chances are very high that the gunholder is after something and not randomly out to get you. Making the wild assumption that such a person acts rationally, I would doubt they would prefer to be a murderer as well as a mugger. I suppose it would be very difficult to do a reliable study on this since it depends a lot on your behaviour - the gunman might be as scared as you and if you startle him he might react abruptly. And you would have to study the circumstances (e.g. if it is gang-related violence both parties might have a gun). Very hard to get any reliable numbers from statistics, I would say.
posted by keijo at 8:22 PM on October 31, 2005

Of course, if you can run 20' faster than someone can pull a trigger, maybe you don't have to worry about such things.
posted by banished at 8:23 PM on October 31, 2005

A cop also once told me (& others at a safety lecture) pretty much the same thing that fsharl was told. Try to get away because the odds of DYING from a gun shot were very low. Frist they have to actually fire the weapon, then the bullet has to actually enter your body, and finally the bullet would have to do vital injury. He said that most wouldn't fire the gun, most of those that did couldn't hit a barn, and it'd almost be pure chance to have the bullet hit something vital.

It's easy to be scared of a gun when it's staring you in the face and this cop put it all in perspective. I don't think I'd 'cause trouble' if it were a mugging or robbery, but if it were an attempted kidnapping or rape you can bet I'd run or fight.

Sorry, I don't know where he got his information, but it makes sense to me.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:38 PM on October 31, 2005

This can't be true. Armed robbery is a fairly profitable way to make a living as a criminal. If you start killing your victims, then the chances that the police will start to notice go way up. The point of armed robbery is to keep it quick, get the money, and get away. Of course if the robber is stupid, high, or has their ego wrapped up in anything other than getting your money, then everything I've said goes out the window.

I'm not a criminal so my answer could be completely off base.
posted by rdr at 8:41 PM on October 31, 2005

More anecdotal evidence... I've heard repeatedly that going along with everything the criminal asks is a dangerous route and very likely to get you hurt. If you're packing, defend yourself, if not, run away and don't look back.
posted by knave at 8:56 PM on October 31, 2005

Not buying it either. Personal note: My husband was held up at gunpoint when he worked at a gas station in college, and he wasn't shot (thank God). He stepped away from the open cash drawer and shut his eyes, the guy scooped cash and fled. Professional note: As a journalist who's read a police blotter or two before, if every 9 out of 10 holdups ended in a gun being fired, we would have needed a lot bigger crime section in the paper.
posted by GaelFC at 9:00 PM on October 31, 2005

It'd almost be pure chance to have the bullet hit something vital

Probably not that low of a chance, note.
posted by abcde at 9:02 PM on October 31, 2005

Too many variables are needed to pin this down. Time of day, motive, region, unto infinity. Sure many crimes have trade-mark similarities, however, it is unwise to make the mentioned assertion.

I believe it is safe to assume that anytime that you face an opponent with a weapon, your chances of survival are 50%. That is because the outcome, 50% of the time, depends on how you react. If you are really concerned, take a self-defense course. I recommend it anyway.

FWIW, I know from my own experience and it's very difficult to know when to fight and when to suck it up and be compliant. I've done both and although I never felt like a winner, I haven't been seriously hurt.
posted by snsranch at 9:08 PM on October 31, 2005

The whole idea of the gun is to scare you into doing what it is they want you to do (usually get them money).

If you've watched any good criminal movie (i.e. Heat), you know that any seasoned criminal knows he/she may eventually get caught, and will therefore avoid the bigger charges like murder. Armed robbery's a few years - murder could be life.

Most people, even terrible criminal people who commit armed robberies, don't want to kill other people.

I would say that maybe your friend has the stat reversed, and it's 9 in 10 you won't get shot. At the end of the day, killing you is just too much risk for too little reward when they can probably get you to hand over the cash or your car or whatever it is they want without killing you.
posted by twiggy at 9:45 PM on October 31, 2005

there are hundreds of thousands of crimes involving firearms ... but even if all these homicides were committed by gun, one can clearly see that there's no way 90% of robbery victims are getting shot

i suppose one could find more exact statistics than these, but it's good enough to answer the question

generally, if you give them the money, they'll take off and let you live ... that's what i did
posted by pyramid termite at 10:07 PM on October 31, 2005

Yeah, I'd say generally the odds are pretty low. We just had a crime spree in our little city, where a number of businesses were held up in the course of about two weeks by what seems to have been three men acting in different combinations. I think it was 10 or 12 hold-ups. Not a single one resulted in an injury.

Your calculation of the danger could escalate, though, depending on circumstances. Is the gunman on drugs? Are there people showing up unexpectedly, who could be police? Are you a woman he may want to abduct and/or rape? I'm certain some criminologist has worked out many of these stats somewhere.

Ah: According to criminological studies conducted in the U.S.A. by Wright and Dekker (1997), which involved interviewing robbers in a dangerous field research, when confronted by armed robbers a victim should immediately co-operate with the robbers and avoid staring at them during the robbery event. Furthermore, additional research conducted in [South Africa] in 2000 found that the victim's reaction during the robbery usually determines whether a weapon will be used or not. Physical or verbal resistance to a robbery makes it more likely that the robbery will fail, but substantially icnreases the risk of injuries to the victim. [PDF]
posted by dhartung at 10:09 PM on October 31, 2005

My friend said that if you are out in public, the chance of dying is about 1/1000. If you are in private (if you get in their car or whatever), the chance is like 1/2. But I don't know where she got her figures. It seems that urban legends differ.
posted by mai at 10:34 PM on October 31, 2005

If you've watched any good criminal movie (i.e. Heat), you know that any seasoned criminal knows he/she may eventually get caught, and will therefore avoid the bigger charges like murder. Armed robbery's a few years - murder could be life.

I love Heat, but it has two rebuttals. First, stickup men aren't necessarily seasoned criminals. As Robert DeNiro says, "You see me doin' thrill-seeker liquor store holdups with a 'Born to Lose' tattoo on my chest?"

Second, when they rob the armored car and kill two of the guards, they kill the third one, too.
Once it escalated into a murder one beef for all of 'em after they killed the first two guards, they didn't hesitate. Popped guard number three because...what difference does it make? Why leave a living witness?
posted by kirkaracha at 10:58 PM on October 31, 2005

I think there's a difference between a holdup and a kidnapping scenario. If it were some junkie looking for cash I'd give it to them and walk away but if it were some guy trying to get me into a car I'd take my chances on running/ fighting for sure.
posted by fshgrl at 11:03 PM on October 31, 2005

I read a book by Robert Ressler, the guy who invented the term "serial killer", and he definitely recommended that you don't get into a car with some psycho with a gun who's trying to kidnap you. Run away, scream, defy him etc., you're almost certainly better off than being taken to some private place where he can ... let's not even finish that sentence.

(The same book also said the a lot of the time when people, particularly women, had been attacked by men, they'd had a strong sense that there was something very wrong, but had supressed it.)

But that's not what we're talking about when some guy comes up to you with a gun and says "give me your wallet". Give him your wallet. That's all he wants.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:52 AM on November 1, 2005

I've been shot at least three times during my growing-up exploits in LA and Southern California. (Long story, but the short of it: Don't piss off drunken skinhead Nazi punks. Also don't let them in your car, even if they're disavowed Nazi punks. They tend to like to shout epithets at Vietnamese gangsters.)

They missed. Once it was a POS .22 auto. Another time it was a shotgun. Yeah, they missed with a shotgun.

The third time was an "accident" involving a dumb kid down the street with a box full of rimfire .22 shells and a hammer. I got hit with a ricochet or a fragment. It barely broke the skin.

A fourth time, as a more-or-less adult: I was biking somewhere, I think just down to a coffee shop in an arts village I was living in/near. A car full of vatos pulls up and someone says "Nice bike." I say "Thanks, I like it." Same guy says "I think I'll take it." And points a cheap-ass .22 out the window at me from inside the car. I say "Heh, you might as well kill me, because without my bike, my life is squat." while thinking 'And you might want to get a bigger/better gun, asshole.' The homeboy says "You have balls, esse!" and they drive off, laughing.

I don't ever remember being actually scared. A little startled, but at the time I didn't have a whole lot to lose, and my bike was newish, and literally my lifeline - to work, health and happiness. I still have that bike.

Take a gun safety and/or target practice course. There are many indoor firing ranges around the US that offer per-session gun rentals for practice in their ranges. You'll see how difficult it actually is to shoot straight and how hard it is to hit anything at a distance, even under ideal conditions.

I would guess that the majority of gun injuries and fatalities are accidents, not intentional assaults.
posted by loquacious at 5:53 AM on November 1, 2005

If this would be true, there would be at least 9 times more people shot than robbed with a gun. That doesn't sound right and is easy to check. Bureau of Justice Statistics says 'In 2004, about 70% of all murders, 41% of all robberies, and 19% of all aggravated assaults that were reported to the police were committed with a firearm.'. Meanwhile, FBI's Crime in the United States 2004 report tells us that, in 2004, the US had 16,137 murders, 854,911 cases of aggravated assault and 401,326 robberies. Using the BJS percentages, we get 11,295 murders, 162,433 aggravated assaults and 280,928 robberies committed with guns in 2004. This means that there were about one and a half times more people merely robbed at gunpoint than people who got shot. The numbers for murders and assaults also include lots of cases where the shooting did not start as a result of someone being held at gunpoint, so you chances of getting shot will be lower than the 2/5 these numbers would give and certainly much lower than 9/10. Now, these numbers presumably don't include misses, so your chances of getting shot at might be somewhat higher.
posted by lazy-ville at 6:36 AM on November 1, 2005

I always heard that if they try to kidnap you, the best thing to do is go ahead and go for a ride with 'em, then give them some crystal meth, talk a little bit about Jesus, and then get yourself a sweet sweet book deal. But then, maybe that's just the way we do it in Atlanta.

Based on my own personal knowledge of two armed muggings -- one ended in a shooting and the other did not. Therefore, I can state with all the certainty of a Fox News pundit that the true crime statistic you are looking for is 50/50.
posted by spilon at 7:23 AM on November 1, 2005

Totally source-free, but I'll offer it: in a female self-defense class, years ago, I was instructed that if you're out in public (parking lot, street), and someone attempts to kidnap you by threatening you with a gun and ordering you into a car (or whatever), your odds of escaping uninjured are much, much higher if you scream your head off and run. They had some statistics about this, but what stayed in my head was the emotional logic of the situation: these people are deranged sexual predators, but have probably not bargained on becoming murderers, and definitely don't want to attract a lot of attention.
posted by Miko at 7:34 AM on November 1, 2005

There aren't any odds because being shot during a mugging isn't a random occurrence. That is, the variables you control, the variables that the mugger controls, and the variables of the environment that someone else controls, are all under control. There are steps you can take to reduce your own risk, ergo there are different risks for different people, ergo it's not random.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2005

Electric: That's wrong. Any time there are statistics and probability, you can come up with odds. And that there is a degree of personal control in when people get mugged doesn't change the fact that there are broad population probabilities.
posted by klangklangston at 8:18 AM on November 1, 2005

Tie those last two posts together. There are odds, but the odds represent the end result of the interaction between both of you. You can hope to control yourself, but you're hoping the mugger isn't bugging out. There is a certain probability that you will panic, and make the mugger nervous, but already having thought about it, at this point you've likely just made yourself more likely to survive. Feel good?

It makes sense to me to cooperate, but even cooperation could be tricky. Do I put my wallet discretely in my hand, outstretched hand, drop it and back away, turn around, run? If the thief clearly and calmy communicates all of this, great! If not, he might be the one freaking out when I take the lead. I recommend you carry your belongings in a lunchbox with one clear side, including your ipod.

My own muggings ended peacefully with losses of $5 and $20. They were both very close quarters, threats whispered in my ear. One moved to me quickly, and had a knife, the other asked me if he could use my phone, and then leaned in pointed out the 5 big guys walking beside us. They were both confident, and apparently experienced. 9/10 sounds like a total crock. They wouldn't be thieves, they'd be serial killers.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 3:33 AM on November 2, 2005

The study dhartung cited is directly contrary to what knave said. It doesn't make much sense to say that complying with a mugging for instance is the more dangerous route.
posted by abcde at 9:02 PM on November 2, 2005

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