Gun violence: It may not be what you think

You couldn’t tell it by the vigor of the public debate but the rate of homicides with guns in the United States has dropped rather dramatically from the ’90s, an analysis of government data shows today.

The Pew Research Center study shows the homicide rate has been cut in half from the early ’90s, but there’s a big caveat: Most of the decline took place in the ’90s.

Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm–assaults, robberies and sex crimes–was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.

Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007. The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008. The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall also dropped in the 1990s before declining more slowly from 2000 to 2010, then ticked up in 2011

Despite the reality, 56 percent of those surveyed think that gun homicides are up.


What’s responsible for the drop? The outsized post-World War II baby boom, which produced a large number of people in the high-crime ages of 15 to 20 in the 1960s and 1970s, helped drive crime up in those years, Pew says.

One other surprising statistic: The rate of suicides with guns is higher than the rate of homicides by gun.

Don’t wait for the news coverage to be adjusted accordingly on that one.

  • Kassie

    Terri Gross had a guest on last week that talked about removing lead from paint and gasoline as a possible reason the violent crime rate dropped in the 90s.

  • jon

    So violent baby boomers in the 60’s and 70’s made the 80’s and early 90’s more violent which finally died off in the mid 90’s? I’m not buying it.

    Baby boomers were having kids in the 80’s and 90’s… not shooting each other… Gen X and the first wave of echo boomers would have been driving gun violence in the 80’s and 90’s by if age leads to violence as is being suggested…

    One needs look no further than the movies of the early 90’s to know that gang violence was a main driver for those homicides… (remembering that period in time could be helpful too) and there has been lots of work done in major cities to eliminate gang violence in the past 10-20 years.

    Also I find it interesting that there is no mention of the brady bill that was enacted into law in ’93 right where that graph peaks.

    Of course there are no good numbers on this (because there are laws preventing the government from tracking them), but I do believe that background checks did curb gun violence.

    I’d also be interested in seeing a comparison of deaths in the mexican drug war side by side with the number of gun homicides in the US… again if these were gang related, and the gangs were funded by drugs, then a shift in the drug violence to the south may have curbed the violence in the US…

  • Bob Collins

    Another reason for the decline: The decline of the popularity of Starter jackets.

  • Beck Kilkenny

    I’m wondering if there’s data from other countries that shows a correlation between youth populations and gun violence.

  • andy

    //Another reason for the decline: The decline of the popularity of Starter jackets.

    Phew, I dodged a bullet there (sincere apologies for the obvious pun). I rocked a Michigan Starter jacket and I graduated HS in ’93…..

    The town where I now live (second largest city in Illinois) has had a dramatic decline in gun violence since the early 90’s which was during the height of gang-related, we’ll say, “gun and drug activity”. Last year we had zero homicides, the last time that occurred was 1946!

  • Pat

    So this DIRECTLY contradicts the message put forward by groups like “Protect” Minnesota and other gun controllers.

    It would appear that strategies BESIDES ineffective gun control are working!

  • Jeff

    John Lott has a very interesting book about these gun statistics called “More Guns, Less Crime”. He tracks numbers of violent crimes and murders as more and more states started to enact conceal and carry laws across this country. The surprising thing is that as states became more liberal with their gun control laws the rates of violent crime and murders actually decreased.

  • Jason

    Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in their book Freakonomics, attribute the drop in violent crime during the 1990s (which includes firearm homicide) to the Roe vs Wade decision in 1973. Paraphrasing the book:

    – fewer unwanted babies resulted in fewer children that grew up feeling unloved and unwanted

    – 20 years later, in the 1990s, there were fewer young adults in that high crime age that grew up in households where they were unwanted

    – fewer young adults from households where they were not fully loved results in less crime.

    The book obviously spends several pages on this topic and goes more in depth.

  • Chris

    Homocide by all weapons/means (see FBI homicide statistics) is down over the same period, not just by firearms. For proponents of “more guns, less crime”, I’d like to know how someone who, in the heat of the moment, thinks of grabbing a knife or a hammer might be dissuaded by the thought that the other might be carrying a gun. More importantly, guns are used in twice the number of homicides as compared to ALL other means combined. The numbers are down but still way too high. By making it harder for criminals to get guns (e.g. background checks) these numbers could be brought down significantly more.

  • Jim

    Kassie is right – she is referring to a landmark study showing undeniable, scientific correlation of lead exposure and violent behavior. The cycle is around 25 years, and lead abatement policy timing supports the downturn in violence – with all weapon types – by the science. The data is so strong that the cost to excavate a couple feet of dirt along roadways that had high traffic during the era of leaded gasoline (to stop the Pb from going airborne in summer) pales in comparison to the health, social, and penal services costs of lead-brain exposure estimated by the epidemiologists. As a MN and UT pistol carry permit holder and firearms enthusiast and shooting sports supporter, I pay attention to this debate, and I am also a scientist, and I would caution both sides not to give in to their own confirmation biases or become victims of myopic focuses, there’s likely much greater forces at work here than who supports what about which weapon, forces much greater than history, politics and emotions. And yes, I use fully jacketed ammo, use only well ventilated ranges, and handle exposed lead ammo and clean my firearms with gloves. 🙂