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Source: Pew Research


I frequently find most of the arguments used by the pro gun side against standard background checks or reduced size magazines to be mostly silly and emotional.

There are numerous simple things we can do to reduce deaths, accidental or otherwise. There are no legitimate arguments, only paranoid ravings of the deluded.

However, this data point via Pew Research is quite astonishing — I’d imagine that most of the public on both sides of the gun control/21nd Amendment debate are mostly unaware:

• Violence plunged through the 1990s, but has declined less dramatically since 2000.
• 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.
• The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant.
• According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.
• Bureau of Justice Statistics review notes homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008.

Quite fascinating.

The takeaway to me is that we as a society all should be doing more of what works to make all of us safer, freer, healthier — and continuously looking for ways to improve on that.



Category: Think Tank

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

34 Responses to “Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak”

  1. ByteMe says:

    The Freakonomics guy used stats to find a correlation to Roe v. Wade. Not so many unwanted kids after 1973. It’s a nice argument, don’t have any idea if it’s really true, because he didn’t show his work in the book.

  2. ottnott says:

    No less fascinating is one of the leading theories to explain the drop in violent crime – environmental regulations banning lead in gasoline.

    The states didn’t all adopt unleaded gasoline at the same time, providing researchers with a natural experiment.

    Kevin Drum has a very readable review of the research:

  3. flocktard says:

    Abortion has been mentioned as one reason for the crime drop, to the consternation of many conservatives who admire Steven Dubner. I saw the Pew statistics last week as well, and while the stats are certainly a good thing- New York City is now one of the safest metropolises in the world, especially now that’s its been practically militarized, there is another factor at work: An ever smaller percentage of the population own guns. While gun SALES have gone through the roof, thanks to the NRA dog whistling, the percentage of Americans who actually own guns has dropped sharply from around 50% to just 33% over the past 15 years or so.

    There is one stat that can’t be avoided- most gun deaths are suicides.

    • That was detailed in Dubner’s book Freakonomics

    • The Window Washer says:

      “While gun SALES have gone through the roof, thanks to the NRA dog whistling,”
      Or costs and standard of living. No one thinks anything about people walking around with $600 computers in their pockets. You can get a couple very nice guns for that, the problem is most guns made in the last 100 years will last forever. The Xbox’s and iphones go in the trash pretty quick.

      Yes I know tinfoil hat types talk up sales around elections but those are bumps in the trend(I presume). It would be interesting to see if sales levels have any lagged link to crime.

  4. Lyle says:

    Another correlation that also shows up in more broad crime statistics is that an older population commits fewer crimes than a younger one. It could be one of the side effects of the demographic bust compared with the baby boom generation, fewer young men in the prime crime years means less crime.

  5. M says:

    Violent crime has been trending down for a generation. I was a research assistant in a university criminology department in the early 90′s and, IIRC, the trend was well established then. I don’t think we hear much about it because it isn’t a very compelling story. I remember an interview that the department chair gave to the local news in which he tried very hard to point out that that violent crime was significantly down yet again that year. The reporter seemed incapable of hearing it and that part of the interview never aired. Maybe if it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t lead. World leading incarceration rates probably correlate better than leaded gas or abortion but the that has its own horrible implications…

    On the gun homicide stats, I’m surprised you had not seen them. They are not new. This round of the gun control debate has not been very informed by data based statistical arguments.

  6. CSF says:

    A large percentage of gun homicides are carried out by criminals and drug dealers against fellow criminals and drug dealers. So the chances of the average middle class American being randomly murdered are far lower than the national statistics above. The national discourse is a classic example of how facts are less persuasive than an emotionally satisfying narrative. Not to say we should ignore the human cost of gun violence, but given the challenges of effectively controlling the millions of guns in circulation, we could protect peoples’ lives and health far more effectively by focusing on clear and present dangers that we can readily mitigate. How about accidental poisoning, with prescription pain killers a large percentage, three times as likely as a gun homicide in 2011?

    Dubner & Leavitt did a recent piece on gun violence and gun control. The podcast is on Freakonomics.

    • ottnott says:

      For that matter, how about efforts to reduce accidental shootings, especially those that occur when children find a loaded, unsecured weapon in a home?

    • honeybadger says:

      @CSF “The national discourse is a classic example of how facts are less persuasive than an emotionally satisfying narrative.”

      Too true. For example, gun crime is highly correlated to social inequality (rho > 0.74) A bit of good old-fashion leftist “social justice” is the best way to reduce gun crime.

      Wish more leftist people fought for deep moral principles rather than shallow issues. Emotions are the engine, yes, but don’t make them the navigator.

    • lrh says:

      To mitigate homicide and non suicide gun deaths:

      USA Today reports 97% of murder suspects and 91% of murder victims in Baltimore had a criminal arrest record. 77% of victims in Milwaukee had a criminal past, averaging 12 arrests. Newark and Philadelphia see similar trends.

      Could it be, in the reality of the streets, stop and frisk (targeting those with criminal arrest records) is the most effective thing law enforcement can do?

  7. wally says:

    The leaded gasoline study, I think, has a lot of credence.
    An interesting bit of trivia: The same chemist who was instrumental in developing leaded gasoline as a commercial product also helped get CFCs (freon) introduced in cooling equipment and as an aerosol propellant. Thomas Midgley, Jr. – not exactly a lucky guy.

  8. pacificbeach says:

    Demographics fit the crime curve extremely well. As a percent of the population, the 16-24 age group surged in the mid 60′s and remained elevated until the mid 80′s.

  9. wookie says:

    Seems like both sides looked to emotional arguments rather than facts and expected outcomes.

    Would be really interesting to dig in deeper on demographic factors (age and urban/rural would be interesting to me) and to look at accidental/suicide/crime (suicide is sometimes lumped into crime).

  10. nanka says:

    I think the background check is basically a false flag. Doesn’t matter what part of the country you are in. If you are an FFL gun dealer, you HAVE to do background checks, whether at a gun show or not. The Feds would like transactions between private parties to be subject to background checks. Ask yourself a simple question: If you are a private party, and you wish to sell your gun to another private party for nefarious purposes are you going to use a background check in the transaction? So the anti-gunners will say that’s why we need the law. Well, no you don’t. That transaction is considered trafficking. It’s already against the law. What is interesting is the laws they have on the books already that they don’t use.

    I found it interesting in a recent hearing when the law enforcement official being questioned, by I believe it was Senator Lindsey Graham, stated that he had never investigated any of the approximately 80k failed form 4473 transactions, or Brady check transactions…interesting. In my state (MA) we have the Bartley Fox Act passed in 1975 which mandates a minimum 1 year, maximum 5 years in prison. I have had many conversations with police officers in the Greater Boston area over the years (I had a family full of cops). Turns out that’s the first charge bartered away, that is if your a city thug or gang banger. So, what good is the law? We actually have a political hack from the DA’s office in Boston, who it looks like wants to run for mayor, who wants to raise that mandatory minimum. Well, what good is it going to do if your office won’t prosecute? I think you’ll find this refrain in many jurisdictions. Then again, in this state, they allow burglars who were hurt in the act of robbing an unoccupied home to sue the homeowners…and win. I have other stories too, but you would say I was making them up.

    What’s interesting about the reduced magazine size argument, is in a pressure situation, it is quite easy to exhaust a magazine without hitting the target, then what do you do? Then again there’s the whole 2nd Amendment thing. Supposedly the politically, incorrect, founding fathers were deathly afraid of tyrannical government, so regardless of the rhetorical logic different judges weave to justify their findings, one could make a valid argument that the FFs would not want to hamstring the citizen in defense of their liberty. However, for all intents and purposes, that document is more of a fata morgana. When there are enough liberal judges on the Supreme Court, it will go the way of the dinosaur. I think Habeus Corpus died at the hands of DHS over the last few years anyway.

  11. neelyll says:

    I’d like to see if there is a correlation per state between the adoption of legislation for Concealed Handgun licenses over time and the overall homocide rate. Similar to the lead in gas study.

    It could either support, or refute, several pro- and anti-gun lobby group positions.

    Or not.

  12. jimcos42 says:

    This comment is about correlation and not cause. In 1993, the Internet was beginning to emerge as an important news source and distribution channel. The 24-hour news cycle was ramping up. Hence, the increasingly quick and widespread dissemination of sensational news and reactions to it became common. And with that, the instant experts, pundits and politically motivated controversies (by all sides) that often disregarded the facts. I recall that Facts actually died a few years ago.

  13. Malachi says:

    Rowe v Wade, leaded gasoline and demographics all seem to be possible causal factors. I’d also be curious about gang violence – it seems there was more gang on gang gun assaults and murders a few decades ago but I don’t have any evidence on that. I’d be curious if that was isolated out how that might effect the data.

  14. Expat says:

    According to one of the nation’s top emergency medicine professional, much of the decline in death rates over the past two decades from gunshot wounds, and hence the decline in homicide, is attributable to dramatic improvements in response time and treatment. This is akin to the lower rates of death in Iraq and Afghanistan; we are bringing home very high numbers of severely brain injured or multiple-amputated soldiers instead of corpses.

  15. Willy2 says:

    I see a number of reasons:
    1). In the 1990s the economy improved and that led, on its own, to a declining crime rate.
    2). Demographics !!! As people age the level of testosterone in the blood veins drops gradually. Hence less violence. The US birthrate peaked in 1961 and went down ever since. The result is an ageing US population and therefore less crime. (Thank you, Gary Shilling)
    3). After say, the year 2000 the homocide rate dropped less. No, surprise because then the economy became less robust. As a result of median income remaining flat and rising commodity prices (oil from $ 20 to over $140, CRB index going up three fold) from 2001 up to 2008. So, in comparison to an aging population (see under 2). ) the crime rate actually went up.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see crime rates actually go (much) higher as the economy tanks more/again.

  16. ComradeAnon says:

    Glad someone mentioned the improvements in emergency medicine. Also, I don’t think the number of shootings went down. And it appears that the numbers of gun related deaths fell much slower than crime overall. But the bottom line is that sadly, so many people, Ms. Rubin I’m talking about you, said that we’ve got something to celebrate here.

    • dvw says:

      Non-fatal violent firearm crime is down even more, according to one of the graphs. The lesser decline in homicides in relation to non-fatal shootings may in part be because homicide includes suicide.

  17. Expat says:

    I am anti-gun myself. Having lived abroad for so long and in so many places, I can assure you that, apart from Yemen, countries around the world look upon Americans as ignorant, gun-toting thugs. They don’t understand why the only constitutional right which survived 9/11 is the 2nd amendment and why Americans gleefully advocate policies which result in tens of thousands of deaths each year.

    Of course, most foreigners are frankly happier to see Americans shooting each other rather than coming over to shoot them! Unfortunately, it seems we have plenty of time and bullets for both favorite pastimes.

  18. Investradamus says:

    BR, normally I find your musings more rational and objective than most, but really don’t understand your comments here. Saying that there are not legitimate arguments and that all of them are “paranoid ravings of the deluded” is a totally ridiculous non sequitur.

    I don’t know why you even brought unintentional fatal firearm injuries (accidents). Let’s not pretend like there is some sort of epidemic here with firearm accidents. The stats are quite clear and show the exact opposite.

    The causal factor here wasn’t worthless legislation like states mandating trigger locks. For children in particular, educational programs like the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program is exponentially more effective at reducing accidental deaths.

    You say we can still do more, and I doubt you will find many that disagree. However, not all legislation is equal and passing legislation just to “do something” is not necessarily going to make any improvements (and could in fact make things worse). With the drastic declines across the board in violent crime rates, firearm homicides, violent crimes with firearms, and accidental firearm deaths, that suggests we’re already doing something right without passing any additional legislation that is likely to have zero impact on any of those things.

    • I did not say all of the arguments were ridiculous — but it seems a disproportionate amount of my email, as well as the loudest voices in the debate — are pretty ridiculous.

  19. lalaland says:

    I think it’s simple – crime didn’t decline from consistently high levels; it got blown up by crack ripping through the urban (then suburban) landscape in the 80′s, and declined when crack finally became taboo. 2nd, cellphones enabled small-time hustlers to build clientele rather than dealing to addicts on the street. Most of those homicides were from turf wars and collateral damage from junkies -

  20. Maybe the U.S. having the world’s highest prison population (as fraction of total population) has something to do with it as well?

    Personally I believe in safety, but I also believe in the U.S. Constitution. There are solutions to this issue – and to nearly all national issues – that can satisfy the demands of both the Constitution and modern propriety. Why can’t we work on those solutions, instead of watching aging Boomers shouting partisan nonsense at each other all the time?

    A good start would be to figure out how to take better care of our mentally ill, and how to make the modern economy less stressful and frustrating. Modern technology gives anyone access to a lot of destructive potential, not just firearms. Rather than removing a particular weapon, perhaps we’d be better off reducing people’s motivation to kill?

  21. DeDude says:

    There are probably so many things that affect crime and gun crime rates that people can find support for their own favorite cause somewhere. The amazing thing is that in spite of the documented dramatic fall in violent crime, people are still sure that it is as bad as ever.

  22. dogen says:

    As others have noted, this trend shouldn’t be news. It is about crime and has been widely reported.

    But, if you look at all fatalities from guns (including criminal, accidental, suicide, who knows why) the stats are stable. IIRC it’s around 30K/year deaths from guns.

    So I suspect that people who are surprised by the Pew article above are confusing total deaths with deaths due to crime. But accidents and suicides are a Big Deal.

    One interesting thing that follows from the above is that if deaths due to gun crime are way down then deaths due to guns from all other causes are way up.

    So I’m not sure what that means, but it’s interesting. In particular, I’m really interested in the medical treatment observation made above. Intuitively that seems like it has to be a factor in the overall statistics (not just the crime related statistics).

    It would be really interesting to see if the “improved medical care effect” could be quantified. If it’s a noticeable effect (as I suspect it is) then we should be seeing an increase in gun injuries but a lower rate of deaths. Then one could correct for that effect and see what the curves look like. I’m sure that the crime-related injuries will still be going down, just curious how much.

    It would also be interesting to see why non-crime fatalities are going up so much.

  23. JohnathanStein says: has some interesting data, particularly by city size and race.

    There is no still no attention focused on the fact that psychiatric drugs induce violence to an unprecedented degree, per the database at and are involved in 90% of mass shootings, per last paragraph at

    Drug makers continue to get a free pass on liability.