Pew study: Gun homicides in U.S. dropped nearly 50 percent over 20 years

The Lookout

If you think gun violence has reached a new high, you're far from alone. However, according to a new statistical survey, you’re also wrong.

The study, published Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, says that gun homicides have declined by a full 49 percent since their peak in 1993. There has been an even steeper decline, 75 percent, in nonlethal crime victimization (with or without a gun) in the period between 1993 and 2010.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show there were 11,078 gun homicide deaths in the U.S. in 2010, compared with 18,253 deaths in 1993.

Nonfatal gun crimes dropped by 69 percent during that same period, according to a separate report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that was also released Tuesday.

Interestingly, the Pew study finds that 56 percent of respondents believe that deaths caused by guns are more frequent than they were 20 years ago, compared with just 12 percent who accurately said the rates had declined.

Still, there are some interesting findings in the study that do appear to back up fears about gun violence. While describing more recent numbers as “statistically insignificant,” Pew does acknowledge that there appears to be a small uptick in gun violence numbers since 2008. In addition, the study found that a vast majority of the drop in homicides took place in the 1990s.

So, who or what is to credit for that decline? The roaring economic boom that took place through the second half of the '90s? The Federal Assault Weapons Ban in effect from late 1994 through 2004? The dramatic increase in incarceration rates? (A controversial 2001 paper says that legalized abortion is at least partially responsible for declining crime rates.)

Pew says the data is inconclusive, writing: “Researchers have studied the decline in firearm crime and violent crime for many years, and though there are theories to explain the decline, there is no consensus among those who study the issue as to why it happened.”

“It’s hard to know what’s going on there,” D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

Another interesting statistic from the study concerns gun ownership and homicide rates in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world. “Compared with other developed nations, the U.S. has a higher homicide rate and higher rates of gun ownership, but not higher rates for all other crimes,” the Pew study says.

Other findings from the Pew Research Center study:

  • Men and boys make up the vast majority (84 percent 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 percent of gun homicide victims in 2010 were 18-40, an age range that was 31 percent of the population that year. Gun homicide rates also are highest for adults ages 18-24 and 25-40.
  • A disproportionate share of gun homicide victims are black (55 percent in 2010), despite blacks making up just 13 percent of the population.
  • 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.