As of early September 2022, FBI crime data for 2021 has not yet been released and this year’s data will be even less comprehensive than usual due to a switch in data collection systems. But available data suggest a slowdown or slight reversal in homicide trends for 2021 and 2022. Voters remain concerned about gun violence, though recent polling supports a downward trend in the salience of crime as it falls behind inflation in prioritization for many.
In order to best address the serious increase in gun homicide that occurred in 2020, we must be precise in our framing of the problem. The overall crime rates–including the rate of murder and other violent and nonviolent crime–remains much lower than at its peak in the 1990s. For example, people were nearly 80% less likely to be a victim of a violent crime in 2021 compared to 1993. Despite some media portrayals, property crime reached a historic low in 2020, leading to the 18th consecutive year the overall crime rate declined in the U.S.3 Most property and nonviolent crimes continued to decline in 2021.
WHO IS IMPACTED BY THE INCREASE IN GUN HOMICIDES?
Gun violence has increased all across the country: in red states and blue states, in dense cities and in suburban and rural areas. The communities hardest hit by gun violence are also the most harmed by mass incarceration and social inequities worsened by the pandemic such as unemployment, poor access to health care, and a lack of affordable housing. Counties with higher poverty levels had higher rates and greater increases in firearm homicides in 2020. Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide.
WHAT CAUSED THE INCREASE IN GUN HOMICIDES?
The available evidence suggests that likely drivers of the increase in gun violence include sharp increases in unemployment, greater access to guns, stress, and isolation, paired with lack of social support aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although it’s hard to identify one simple cause for the homicide increase, there is an enormous amount of data and research showing that criminal justice reform is not driving increases in crime or violence. Gun violence rose in cities that have elected reform-minded prosecutors and in cities that did not, and in states that have limited cash bail, defelonized crimes and reduced jail and prison terms as well as those that have not. In fact, some of the states that have long suffered with the highest incarceration rates are seeing some of the highest rates of murder.4 Research shows that popularly scapegoated reforms–like bail reform in Texas and New York, changes in prosecution practices in Massachusetts, and a mass commutation in Oklahoma–are working safely without increasing rates of crime or violence.