Chart of the day: Gun homicides are down 49 percent since 1993

May 7, 2013

A new report from Pew Research finds that gun homicide rates in the United States have dropped 49 percent between 1993 and 2010. Other types of gun violence have dropped 75 percent over that period. Here it is in chart form:

Even with the drop, there's still plenty of violence. All told, there were 31,672 deaths from guns in the United States in 2010.

There are a few twists here. As the chart makes clear, virtually all of the decline in gun homicides took place during the 1990s. That downward trend stopped in 2001 and only started falling again in 2007, albeit more slowly. The same is true for other types of gun violence — assaults, robberies, sex crimes.

Meanwhile, even as gun homicide rates have plummeted, gun suicide rates have declined at a much slower pace. As a result, Pew reports, "gun suicides now account for six-in-ten firearms deaths, the highest share since at least 1981."

So why has gun violence declined? The report lists a whole slew of theories, from demographics to the economic boom during the 1990s to the drop in lead in the environment:

By the early 1990s, crack markets withered in part because of lessened demand, and the vibrant national economy made it easier for even low-skilled young people to find jobs rather than get involved in crime.

At the same time, a rising number of people ages 30 and older were incarcerated, due in part to stricter laws, which helped restrain violence among this age group. It is less clear, researchers say, that innovative policing strategies and police crackdowns on use of guns by younger adults played a significant role in reducing crime....

Another theory links reduced crime to 1970s-era reductions in lead in gasoline; children’s exposure to lead causes brain damage that could be associated with violent behavior. The National Academy of Sciences review said it was unlikely that either played a major role, but researchers continue to explore both factors.

Curiously, Pew reports, most Americans are also unaware of this drop: "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."

Further reading: There's a lot of good info in the Pew report. And here's a write-up of similar new Justice Department data from my colleague Jerry Markon.

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Dylan Matthews | May 7, 2013