The Los Angelas Times is reporting on a new study from the Pew Research Center that found that gun crime has plunged in the United States since its peak in the middle of the 1990s, including gun killings, assaults, robberies and other crimes, two new studies of government data show.
Yet few Americans are aware of the dramatic drop, and more than half believe gun crime has risen, according to a newly released survey by the Pew Research Center.
In less than two decades, the gun murder rate has been nearly cut in half. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, paralleling a broader drop in violent crimes committed with or without guns. Violent crime dropped steeply during the 1990s and has fallen less dramatically since the turn of the millennium.
The number of gun killings dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in a separate report released Tuesday. Gun crimes that weren’t fatal fell by 69%. However, guns still remain the most common murder weapon in the United States, the report noted. Between 1993 and 2011, more than two out of three murders in the U.S. were carried out with guns, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found.
The bureau also looked into non-fatal violent crimes. Few victims of such crimes — less than 1% — reported using a firearm to defend themselves.
Despite the remarkable drop in gun crime, only 12% of Americans surveyed said gun crime had declined compared with two decades ago, according to Pew, which surveyed more than 900 adults this spring. Twenty-six percent said it had stayed the same, and 56% thought it had increased.
It’s unclear whether media coverage is driving the misconception that such violence is up. The mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., were among the news stories most closely watched by Americans last year, Pew found. Crime has also been a growing focus for national newscasts and morning network shows in the past five years but has become less common on local television news.
“It’s hard to know what’s going on there,” said D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center. Women, people of color and the elderly were more likely to believe that gun crime was up than men, younger adults or white people. The center plans to examine crime issues more closely later this year.
Though violence has dropped, the United States still has a higher murder rate than most other developed countries, though not the highest in the world, the Pew study noted. A Swiss research group, the Small Arms Survey, says that the U.S. has more guns per capita than any other country.
Experts debate why overall crime has fallen, attributing the drop to all manner of causes, such as the withering of the crack cocaine market and surging incarceration rates.
Some researchers have even linked dropping crime to reduced lead in gasoline, pointing out that lead can cause increased aggression and impulsive behavior in exposed children.
The victims of gun killings are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately black, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Compared with other parts of the country, the South had the highest rates of gun violence, including both murders and other violent gun crimes.
Among the major findings of this Pew Research Center report:
U.S. Firearm Deaths
- In 2010, there were 3.6 gun homicides per 100,000 people, compared with 7.0 in 1993, according to CDC data.
- In 2010, CDC data counted 11,078 gun homicide deaths, compared with 18,253 in 1993.5
- Men and boys make up the vast majority (84% in 2010) of gun homicide victims. The firearm homicide rate also is more than five times as high for males of all ages (6.2 deaths per 100,000 people) as it is for females (1.1 deaths per 100,000 people).
- By age group, 69% of gun homicide victims in 2010 were ages 18 to 40, an age range that was 31% of the population that year. Gun homicide rates also are highest for adults ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 40.
- A disproportionate share of gun homicide victims are black (55% in 2010, compared with the 13% black share of the population). Whites were 25% of victims but 65% of the population in 2010. Hispanics were 17% of victims and 16% of the population in 2010.
- The firearm suicide rate (6.3 per 100,000 people) is higher than the firearm homicide rate and has come down less sharply. The number of gun suicide deaths (19,392 in 2010) outnumbered gun homicides, as has been true since at least 1981.
U.S. Firearm Crime Victimization
- In 2011, the NCVS estimated there were 181.5 gun crime victimizations for non-fatal violent crime (aggravated assault, robbery and sex crimes) per 100,000 Americans ages 12 and older, compared with 725.3 in 1993.
- In terms of numbers, the NCVS estimated there were about 1.5 million non-fatal gun crime victimizations in 1993 among U.S. residents ages 12 and older, compared with 467,000 in 2011.
U.S. Other Non-fatal Crime
- The victimization rate for all non-fatal violent crime among those ages 12 and older—simple and aggravated assaults, robberies and sex crimes, with or without firearms—dropped 53% from 1993 to 2000, and 49% from 2000 to 2010. It rose 17% from 2010 to 2011.
- Although not the topic of this report, the rate of property crimes—burglary, motor vehicle theft and theft—also declined from 1993 to 2011, by 61%. The rate for these types of crimes was 351.8 per 100,000 people ages 12 and older in 1993, 190.4 in 2000 and 138.7 in 2011.
- The number of firearms available for sale to or possessed by U.S. civilians (about 310 million in 2009, according to the Congressional Research Service) has grown in recent years, and the 2009 per capita rate of one person per gun had roughly doubled since 1968. It is not clear, though, how many U.S. households own guns or whether that share has changed over time.
- Crime stories accounted for 17% of the total time devoted to news on local television broadcasts in 2012, compared with 29% in 2005, according to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Crime trails only traffic and weather as the most common type of story on these newscasts.