Democracy Dies in Darkness

Wonkblog | Analysis

Trump promised to end the “American carnage.” Gun deaths are up 12 percent

By Christopher Ingraham

July 27, 2017 at 1:37 PM

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez holds a Thompson submachine gun, one of 217 firearms seized during a joint gun trafficking investigation, Wednesday, March 8, 2017.  (Photo by Charles Eckert)

Gun deaths are up over 12 percent year-over-year. Firearm injuries are up nearly 8 percent. The number of children under the age of 12 shot by a gun has increased by 16 percent, while instances of defensive gun use are up nearly 30 percent.

Citing "the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential," President Donald Trump promised in his inaugural address that "this American carnage stops right here and stops right now." But the numbers above from the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit that tracks shootings via media reports and law enforcement records, show that in the first 200 days of 2017 the carnage has only gotten worse.

In the first 200 days of 2014, for instance, the Archive's team of researchers tallied 6,206 gun deaths, not counting suicides. Three years later that figure has jumped by well over one-third, to 8,539 fatalities.

Since 2014, total firearm injuries are up 50 percent. Shootings of children are up by nearly 30 percent. Reports of defensive gun use have doubled.

Trump's rhetoric aside, there's little a president can do in his first six months in office to influence violent crime trends in any direction. The Archive also doesn't offer any speculation about what's driving these numbers. "We provide very little analysis, and that’s intentional,” the group's founder Mark Bryant recently told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We want people to be able to draw their own conclusions."

Other research has found that the nationwide homicide increase of recent years masks considerable regional variation. In many major cities, like Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland, homicides are rising sharply. In others, like New York, homicides are actually falling.

The Gun Violence Archive's numbers suggest that in 2017, gun homicides are rising faster in some cities than they're falling in others. A small portion of this rise may be attributable to more media attention and better measurement techniques. But in the past few years the Gun Violence Archive's fatality numbers have tracked closely with the slower, more deliberative data from official sources like the CDC and the FBI.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made reducing violent crime a priority for the Department of Justice. He created a special task force on the topic, charged with delivering recommendations to the Attorney General's office by this week.

Sessions has taken several concrete steps so far intended to reduce homicides and violent crime, including increasing the use of mandatory minimum prison sentences, boosting the use of civil asset forfeiture to take property from suspects before they're convicted or charged with wrongdoing, and threatening to withhold federal funding from so-called "sanctuary cities."

None of these interventions are likely to have a significant effect on gun violence. Research has shown mandatory minimum sentences have little deterrent effect on violent crime. On asset forfeiture, one recent study found that expanding the practice reduced property crimes somewhat but had no effect on violent crime. Cracking down on "sanctuary cities" may even turn out to be counterproductive, as research has shown they tend to be less violent than cities without such policies in place.

Research has shown repeatedly, however, that one of the chief risk factors for gun crime is the availability of guns: more guns, more crime. Under the Obama administration, perpetual fears of pending crackdowns on gun ownership (that never materialized) helped drive record numbers of gun sales, putting millions more firearms in circulation.

Under Trump, however, fears of federal gun-grabs have subsided, driving gun sales down as a result. If that trend continues, it may prove to have more of a concrete effect on gun violence than any policy his administration pursues.


Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

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