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Almost a million crimes involving handguns happened in this country in 1992, and the victims of these attacks were most likely to be young black males, the Justice Department says.

Handguns were used in a growing percentage of violent crimes, because handgun use was up while overall nonfatal violent crimes dropped in 1992, the department said Sunday.Well before these precise numbers were available, Congress responded to reports of growing handgun use by passing the Brady bill in November. Signed by President Clinton, that law requires a five-day waiting period before completing handgun sales so local police can check the background of the purchasers.

There were 917,500 nonfatal crimes committed with handguns in 1992, 50 percent above the average for the previous five years, according to the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. In addition, there were 13,200 handgun homicides that year, 24 percent more than the five-year average.

The rate of nonfatal handgun crimes - 4.5 crimes for every 1,000 people age 12 or over - surpassed the record set in 1982 of 4 per 1,000, the statistics bureau said.

Handguns were used in 55.6 percent of the year's 23,760 murders, the FBI said.

Offenders armed with handguns committed one in every eight nonfatal violent crimes - rape, robbery and assault, the statistics bureau said.

The 1992 rate for all types of nonfatal violent crime was 35 crimes per 1,000 people, below 1981's 20-year peak of 39 per 1,000.

Young black males comprised the group most victimized by handgun crime. There were 39.7 handgun crimes against them for every 1,000 black males age 16-19.

That was four times the rate for young white males, 9.5 crimes per 1,000.

Other findings:

- Offenders fired their weapons in 17 percent of all nonfatal handgun crimes, missing the victim four out of five times, during the 1987-1992 period.

- About 21,000 victims a year were wounded, accounting for about 3 percent of nonfatal handgun crimes.