October 21, 2015

Gun homicides steady after decline in ’90s; suicide rate edges up

Gun Violence Has Declined Since '90sSeveral mass shootings in recent months have brought renewed attention to the issue of gun violence in America, and President Obama has again called for Congress to change the nation’s gun laws.

But the increased spotlight on guns does not reflect the overall gun violence trend in the country. Although most Americans think the number of gun crimes has risen, the U.S. gun homicide rate has actually stabilized somewhat in recent years, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of death certificate data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1993 and 2000, the gun homicide rate dropped by nearly half, from 7.0 homicides to 3.8 homicides per 100,000 people. Since then, the gun homicide rate has remained relatively flat. From 2009 to 2014, the most recent year data are available, the number of gun homicides has hovered around 11,000 and 12,000 per year.

By contrast, a significantly higher – and growing – number of gun deaths were by suicide than by homicide, and this has been true throughout the past two decades. For example, while the gun suicide rate has declined overall since 1993, in recent years it has risen, from 6.3 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 6.7 in 2014.

The nation’s overall gun death rate has declined 31% since 1993. This total includes homicides and suicides, in addition to a smaller number of fatal police shootings, accidental shooting deaths and those of undetermined intent. For example, in 2014 there were 464 fatal police shootings, up from 333 in 2009. (Government data on fatal police shootings are also collected and reported by the FBI, though the agency acknowledges there are discrepancies between federal and local law enforcement counts.)

The rate of nonfatal gun victimizations declined in a similar way to the gun death rate, with a large drop in the 1990s – 63% between 1993 and 2000. The decline since then has been more uneven. In 2014, there were 174.8 nonfatal violent gun victimizations per 100,000 people ages 12 and older.

Despite these trends, most U.S. adults think gun crimes have increased. In our 2013 survey, more than half (56%) of Americans said the number of gun crimes had gone up compared with 20 years ago. Another 26% said the number of gun crimes had remained the same, and just 12% said gun crimes had declined.

The public has been divided on the issue of gun ownership in recent years. In our July survey, 50% said it is more important to control gun ownership and 47% said it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns. Support for controlling gun ownership has declined; throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, a majority of Americans said it was more important to control gun ownership.

The July survey also found that Americans strongly support a variety of specific gun control measures, including expanded background checks (85%), laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns (79%) and creation of a federal database to track all gun sales (70%). A smaller majority (57%) support a ban on assault-style weapons.

Note: This post was updated on Jan. 5, 2016, to reflect the latest 2014 data. 

Topics: Gun Policy

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Tom G2 years ago

    I think that the reality in this issue, like in most issues, lays in the middle. NRA minded people and the liberal left continue to “push on the pendulum” in order to inflict their influence on the entire process instead of looking at the problem logically and finding a solution that best serves all of the real and practical needs.

    Recent attacks have been in the areas of the highest regulation of guns. Obviously the laws of France or CA didn’t prevent the problem. It is a valid point that the regulation makes their citizens more venerable to attack. Ben Carson’s much maligned statement that the Nazis would have had a harder time exterminating the Jews if they had not been disarmed is exactly the kind of lesson that history has the ability to teach us. Unfortunately, the Politically Correct Police attack this observation of facts as some sort of abuse to the poor Jews that suffered in that atrocity. The Jewish people have placed a focus on not letting their plight be forgotten lest it happen again. We should really think about this one.

    I believe in the Constitution!!! We all need to read the Constitution and refer directly to it as the law by which we live and solve our problems. It was written with such genius that it provided for its adjustment thru changing times in a balanced way. Read the second amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thats it!!! One sentence. Nothing more, nothing less. Few people have actually read it, much less tried to understand its meaning.
    What we allow in public possession of armaments is currently regulated and few people believe that individuals should own tanks, high explosives, nuclear or biological weapons or any other high-grade military weapons. Few reasonable people believe that we should limit possession of all items in society as strict as we do in airport security. Clearly there is a constitutional right to “bear Arms.” What is ileft is for the law to decide. I question the need for automatic rifles for anything besides shooting people. It is , in my opinion, reasonable to protect your castle from invasion by criminals or terroristic enemies. Is an AR the right and necessary tool for the job? If we ban AR’s or any other weapon, will we be safer as individuals and as a society? I understand the position that registration of all guns could facilitate the removal of guns by a future tyrannical government. More regulation is not necessarily better. Less regulation is not necessarily better. We; shouldn’t continue to choose extreme positions in order to protect the middle. We should focus on what’s we really want reality to look like. The only way to get it right is to think logically!

    1. jason2 years ago

      Tom, the fact that you question AR (Armalite)-15 rifles by implying they are “automatic” indicates a serious misunderstanding your part. They are not automatic, they are semi auto like the vast majority of almost all handguns sold today.

      And when you say they are for shooting people, I have to ask this. 80% of Americans who own guns list self defense, and mostly home defense as the primary reason. the core right is of self defense. hunting is not a right, nor is skeet, any a majority vote can end either of those anywhere.

      So they are for shooting people in the sense that their purpose, is for deterring violent crime .
      Let’s be logical and not emotional. The FBI just issued its UCR (full crime report and analysis for 2014 in Oct 2015). 8,124 gun murders in the US. This is about a 60% drop. In anything else the press would call that a plunge. about 200 murders with rifles of ALL kinds including assault rifles.
      And I am a member of the NRA and the ACLU. The more and more gun control lobby is a top down effort spending massive amounts. Do I agree with Ted Nugent? No. But I do say not one more gun law. There is a reason NRA favorable by Gallup just went to favorable vie of the NRA by 58% of Americans.
      Oscar Pistorius, (whom I believe was guilty) was just convicted in S., Africa on double jeopardy. Canada, Australia and 90% of Europe has some form of double jeopardy. Australia has stop and frisk nationally. We talk about Snowdon and the 2011 expansion of Patriot, in Europe they spend an order of magnitude survailing their own citizens. They have may subtle lower privacy and defendant rights. I am sick of being compared to countries with less liberty and sick of a media that does not know guns or firearm law.

      1. Jim Spriggs2 years ago

        “This is about a 60% drop.”

        From when? The early 90’s? I don’t mean to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but since when is a 60% drop to over 8,000 gun deaths anything to be proud of? I mean, you DID feel the need to bring it up.

        “But I do say not one more gun law. There is a reason NRA favorable by Gallup just went to favorable vie of the NRA by 58% of Americans.”

        Your premise is not supported by your conclusion. A majority favorable rating for the NRA (however bizarre that seems to me, since the NRA has become in many respects the chief lobbyist for the domestic weapons industry) and stricter gun laws are mutually exclusive. This recent Gallup result shows a majority of those polled favor stricter gun laws:

        “Americans’ Desire for Stricter Gun Laws Up Sharply”

        1. Rob Ball2 years ago

          Jim – 8000 out of a population of 325 million is very small and half of those murders are 15-25 year old black juveniles killing each other over primarily the drug war. Its an all time low in the US and is just a small fraction (2-5% depending on various estimates) of the murder rate before guns were invented. The only reason people ask for gun laws is the media blows up every one of the mass murders for ratings and political will. You see above only 11% of the population thought gun violence was down despite a 60% drop.

          In fact, you are
          -11x more likely to die from alcohol (should we bring back prohibition?)
          -75x more likely to die from heart disease (should we ban fast food and 95% of restaurants?)
          -15x more likely to die from cigarettes (should we ban cigs?)
          -4.5x more likely to die from a traffic accident (should we ban cars?
          -4x more likely to die from falls
          -6x more likely to die from drugs

          1. Kyle St. Charles2 years ago

            Thank you! Finally some reason is spoken. Unfortunately, I feel most people are just as myopic as Jim Spriggs. Jim even went through the hassle of posting a link to a Gallup poll that does nothing to prove gun violence is an actual problem in America. The poll he posted is completely based on emotions. In this PC culture we are creating anybody and everybody is a victim, yet all Americans are far wealthier and better off than they have ever been. Would anybody like to rewind the clock and live the life of the average American in the 1940s, 50s, or even 60s? I guarantee there would be a lot more problems than living in today’s world.

  2. David2 years ago

    It would be interesting to see more data, like the motivations of gun violence or rate among race/gender/age/class.

    1. Paul2 years ago

      I think the CDC website has that.

  3. George Kirkman2 years ago

    What this research doesn’t show is, if race is taken into consideration, the 3.8 homicides per 100,000 would be about half that for white people.

    For example E. St. Louis, IL is 94% Black had in 2012 a murder rate of 62.9 per 100,000, the highest in the nation. Similar rates are true of other cities with large minority population. E St Louis has an estimated median household income in 2013: $18,236

    The reverse is also true. Irvine which has a Black population of 1.5 percent has a murder rate of .5 per 100,000. Irvine has an estimated median household income in 2013: $87,830

    In case anyone thinks that poverty and not race is a factor, I would like to point Owsley County, Kentucky. It has a 98% white population, an estimated median household income in 2013: $20,154 and a murder rate of near 0 per hundred thousand.

    1. George Kirkman2 years ago

      I would like to add that Blacks make up just 12% of the population.

      Ethnic groups: white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%

      1. Andrij “Andrew” Harasewych2 years ago

        You just seem like you are trying to use numbers to make a claim that Blacks are naturally more violent. Which is ridiculous.

        1. Robert Jensen2 years ago

          It’s not ridiculous if it’s true.

        2. Rob Ball2 years ago

          Andrij, according to the FBI, black males from the ages of 15-25 are 50x (FIFTY) more likely to commit murder than the population at large (mostly against other black males of the same age)

  4. Todd Ashton2 years ago

    People also believe that Hillary Clinton is experienced enough to be President, or that Donald Trump is not insane. Who cares what people think, when they are dead wrong?

    1. Andrij “Andrew” Harasewych2 years ago

      I mean, TBH – if Clinton isn’t “experienced” enough to be president… not sure who is. Not making a judgement of her quality here. Merely her resume.

  5. mach372 years ago

    Why does it matter what people “think” about a situation, when there is reasonable evidence that they are thinking wrongly? If news reporters tell ONLY the truth in their articles, and people can trust the reports to be truthful, there should be no conflicting opinions. The unanswerable question, I guess, is how do reporters get away with reporting lies and half-truths? Failure of the schools to teach “Logic?” If only Humans were actually Vulcans.

  6. Denny H2 years ago

    Remove Chicgo and the other Democratically controlled gun control paradises and ghettos and the US homicide rate declined massively.

    1. Chris F2 years ago

      Gary Indiana is 30 miles from Chicago. Indiana has very weak gun laws. Gary has one of the highest crime rates in the country. Indiana has a significantly higher gun fatality rate than Illinois. The criminals are either going into Indiana to buy their guns or coming into Chicago from Indiana. This is why we need a federal law.

      1. DLS10162 years ago

        And the US has porous borders with little control of what crosses them. A Federal law will have the same problem as a State law until our borders are secure.

        1. Angry Aaron2 years ago

          It’s illegal to own firearms in Mexico or purchase them. You can own if you run a gun range or something like that. Most of the cartels in Mexico also have American weapons that we gave the government. So assuming people will go to Mexico or there will be a Mexico to America gun smuggling claim is misguided.

        2. Jim Spriggs2 years ago

          Yes, by all rights Mexico needs to secure its northern border. The United States’ domestic weapons manufacturers have their product exported south where their guns are used to kill people by the thousands. People constantly harping on “America strengthening its border” is the height of selfishness.

  7. avalmez2 years ago

    And yet, among 34 OECD countries, the US homicide is the fourth highest. Homicide rates in France, the UK and Germany are 1.20 (14th highest), 0.96 (18th) and 0.70 (29th), respectively, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. The slight but still obvious slant in this article is unbecoming of Pew. What gives?

    1. James2 years ago

      There have been many studies that show that homicide rates decrease as gun ownership increases. Though some of these studies have been questioned, no one has been able to make the case that more guns per capita results in higher homicide rates. Stats just don’t support your not-so-slight but very obvious slant.

      1. Denny H2 years ago


      2. avalmez2 years ago

        Yes, the slant of the reply is indeed not-so-slight – I admit, it’s rather overt. Also, it’s agreed that with regards to almost any position on a any given issue, stats can be developed and presented in such a way that the presentation supports any position, including contradictory positions.

        However, the complaint the reply is meant to convey is that, rightly or wrongly, my expectation of Pew has been that it is balanced in it’s “reporting” and in general Pew is balanced. This article seems to slightly suggest “Washington! We have no problem!” It would not surprise me to find some gun rights advocate citing this article in support of its cause.

        In any case, the more important issue is gun control. It’s probably fair to write that persons on both sides of the gun control issue agree that responsible gun owners are not the problem. Rather, it’s irresponsible gun owners (criminal, mentally ill and vigilante types) that are the problem.

        A reasonable person might then expect that persons on both sides of the issue agree that controlling gun ownership by irresponsible persons would be a responsible approach to the extraordinary problem of homicide in this country, including, of course, mass killings, accidental deaths, and suicides (and let’s also go ahead and add vigilanteism).

        Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s simply incomprehensible that anyone would not support controls as nonrestrictive to them as: background checks; laws that make it criminal to leave guns accessible to young children except under adult supervision; in general, midway points between the various positions.

        As I understand (give me a few minutes and I’m certain I can find stats to support my understanding), indeed, such midway points do exist. But, the NRA and other similar organizations call in their chits from legislators and the legislators then become the main obstacle to enacting reasonable gun control laws and regulations. So while we’re at it, why not further address the issue of influence on legislation by special interests over the interests of the people?

        In the absence of any movement to address the issue of homicide in the US, the people do become numb to reports of even the most horrendous cases of homicide that occur all too often. While doing not a thing to prevent them, our nation remain the seemingly proud holder of third highest in homicide rates amongst OECD nations. And so on.

        Can’t we all just be reasonable and do something that might save lives?

        1. ruralcounsel2 years ago

          And this is where the agenda of gun control tries to “deny the science”.

        2. Hackgrr2 years ago

          It always bothers me when those who really are not aware of what the NRA does, try to paint them as evil sinister lobbyists. Demonizing them by innuendo “calling in their chits” is terribly inappropriate. It may surprise many that the NRA is the worlds largest firearm safety training organization in the world with highly competent trainers, and exacting standards to be certified. They support hunters, shooting sports enthusiasts and recreational marksmen alike. The also provide a substantial amount of training for Law Enforcement, and train their trainers.

          It may also be instructive to know that the NRA does and did support the effort to require background checks on firearm purchases to stop felons, domestic abusers and the like from being able to purchase firearms. The NRA has always supported reasonable measures(gun locks, safe storage) as they and we all know that law abiding, responsible citizens are not the problem. The issue is that many for the manta of “gun control” are willing to circumvent the rights of the law abiding in wide sweeping measures that may sound good, but actually don’t work as intended.

          I am a firearm owner of both handguns and long guns. I don’t hunt, but I do love to target shoot. I am constantly training in both safety and marksmanship and an looking into taking the expensive and time consuming courses to train others by becoming a certified instructor. Reasonable, responsible people who are safety minded can co-exist with firearms quite well. We rely on these same types of people to protect us, be they in our Armed Forces, or Law Enforcement. It may be your or my ill fortune to protect ourselves someday from a threat to ourselves or to those we love, or even our neighbor. If that moment comes we will wish we properly prepared in advance.

          1. Robert Jensen2 years ago

            Good job, you are correct.

        1. joe2 years ago

          That report is from an anti gun advocacy group. The Pew research center is nonpartisan, try posting a link that is not sided with your agenda already.

        2. M2 years ago

          Gun Deaths doesn’t = gun murder when it includes suicides and gun self-defense homicides.

          The vast majority of gun deaths are suicides and paints a very different picture. For example, that “report” (the actual study link was broken…strange) cited Alaska having the highest gun death but 80% of the gun deaths were due to suicide(with the Native Alaskans having the highest suicide rate). “More than 90% of people who die by suicide have depression or another diagnosable, treatable mental or substance abuse disorder, according to American Association of Suicidology.” dhss.alaska.gov/SuicidePreventio…

          87% of people support background checks and controls on the mentally ill having access to guns. You want to put a real bi-partisan dent in gun deaths, that’s probably the best place to start.

          1. Angry Aaron2 years ago

            Being a vet I know many people with mental health issues who own guns and claim they would never kill or harm themselves. There’s plenty of people who’ve never been diagnosed that accidentally shoot themselves and others also.

            I agree with you 100% but I’m fairly sure the majority of people think they have no problem and need protection from an invisible enemy, which is normally themselves.

        3. TB2 years ago

          It’s simple, really. Just map that second Pew Research graph against gun and ammunition purchases over the same time period. See how that comes out.

    2. Thomas R2 years ago

      I think it’s saying it’s declined compared to what it was in the US, it’s not a comparison of countries.

      Going by some sources the US rate was always high compare to other modern nations. In 1957 our rate was 4 per 100,000, which is low for us or maybe the lowest recorded. (Although it’s possible killings of African-Americans were under-reported then) The UN would place 4.0 as higher than the average for “Very high human development” nations today. You have to get to 33rd Estonia for a nation higher than that and they are maybe higher than that today.

      However the Guardian indicates that in the Western Hemisphere there are many nations with less gun ownership and, curiously, more gun homicide. The most extreme examples might be Ecuador and Honduras where gun homicide rates look amazingly high considering gun ownership rates are noticeably less than Denmark or Italy and greatly less than say France. (Honduras was equal to England and Wales)


      Not that that means gun ownership is good. We are still higher than Canada and have less guns per-capita in that. And there’s the suicide issue. And some of the safest nations do indeed have very low rates of guns per-capita. (I think I read some of these nations, like Switzerland or Canada, are about the same in owners-per-capita but maybe their gun owners have less guns than ours.)

    3. Paul2 years ago

      According to the CDC databas, the non-firearm homicide rate in the USA in 2013 is 1.0 per 100K population. So the USA has a higher homicide rate than UK or Germany even without the guns. So now what do we do with the comparison?