Gun Violence Isn’t Off the Charts – It’s Actually Going Down

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On Tuesday, June 10, President Obama took to Tumblr to answer questions on everything and anything from education, college affordability, and student loan debts in an open forum moderated by Tumblr founder and CEO, David Karp, live from the White House. In light of the tragic string of school shootings that have been plaguing the nation as of late, it was only a matter of time until the subject was brought up.

The President expressed his extreme frustration at the fact that “society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.”

His frustration is well justified – Sandy Hook, the Naval Yard, Santa Barbara, and most recently Oregon – have all proved that mass shootings are a very real problem in America. While most Americans readily agreed with President Obama when he continued by saying “Our levels of gun violence are off the charts,” the truth of the matter is that gun related homicides have actually been decreasing over the past 20 years.

President Obama is not the only one who mistakenly thinks that gun violence has been increasing;  in fact 56 percent of Americans believe that the number of crimes involving a gun is higher than it was 20 years ago. However, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, national rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are “strikingly lower” than they were 20 years ago, mirroring a general decrease in crime.

The gun homicide rate was 49 percent lower in 2010 than in 1993, with fewer deaths despite population growth. Another important fact to note is that while there were 31,672 gun-related deaths in 2010, most of those deaths (19,392) were actually suicides. Surprisingly, the rate of gun suicides has consistently been higher than the gun homicide rate since at least 1981, and that gap is wider now than it has ever been.

However, when President Obama said, “we’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens,” he was not wrong. America leads the world in gun homicides and has more guns per citizen than any other country in the world, but while the president laments the fact that these mass shootings seem to be a once-a-week occurrence, mass shootings make up less than 1 percent of all homicides according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) review.

Less than 1 percent?

That is a shockingly low percentage for nearly 30 years’ worth of statistical data. Even the Congressional Research Service states that “while tragic and shocking, public mass shootings account for few of the murders or non-negligent homicides related to firearms that occur annually in the United States.”

If the numbers show that both crime and gun violence are declining, why do most Americans feel that things are getting worse rather than better?

One explanation may lie with the media, as 17 percent of all news on local television broadcasts is centered on crime stories. Only traffic and weather top crime as the most common type of story played on newscasts, and it is no secret that violent crimes are frequently the bread and butter of breaking news.

It may come as no surprise that in 2012, the Pew Research Center found that news stories about fatal shootings were more closely followed by the public than any other type of story. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut ranked second in public attention, with only the presidential election garnering more publicity that year.

Though the number of deaths resulting from mass shootings has not significantly increased over the past two decades, the frequency that Americans hear about those incidents certainly has. It may seem unfathomable now, but just a few decades ago a shooting could happen in California and people in New York would not find out until days after the fact.

With technology evolving and more information available than ever before, it may seems that the world has not only become smaller, but also more dangerous. It is no wonder that the majority of Americans believe that crime and gun violence have gotten worse rather than better over the past twenty years – it is all they ever hear about and see on the news.

Nicole Roberts (@NicoleR5901) a student at American University majoring in Justice, Law, and Society with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. She has a strong interest in law and policymaking, and is active in homeless rights advocacy as well as several other social justice movements. Contact Nicole at

Featured image courtesy of [Auraelius via Flickr]

Nicole Roberts
Nicole Roberts a student at American University majoring in Justice, Law, and Society with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. She has a strong interest in law and policymaking, and is active in homeless rights advocacy as well as several other social justice movements. Contact Nicole at



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