Gun Violence Is Falling In 2022
Murder and gun violence rose at an unprecedented rate in 2020, but it may be starting to recede.
Murder in the United States rose at the fastest pace ever recorded in 2020 and it rose again in 2021, but murder is likely falling nationally 2022. Publicly available shooting data from two dozen cities suggests the decline in murder is being driven by gun violence dropping in many cities with a handful of places seeing sharp declines.
Murder increased by nearly 30 percent nationally in 2020, the largest one-year increase in recorded US history both in terms of the number of murders and the rate of murders per 100,000 residents, and the FBI estimated1 a smaller increase occurred in 2021.
Year-to-date data from over 90 cities this year, however, suggests murder is falling in 2022 with those cities down about 5 percent this year relative to the same timeframe last year. The big city decline in murder representing a likely national trend is supported by data from the Gun Violence Archive showing a smaller (2.5 percent) decline in firearm homicides this year relative to last year.
Below are the number of US murders and murder rate per 100k from 1960 through 2022 with 2022’s figures estimated from the big city data. Gun violence is still far more common now than it was just a few years ago, but the decline in 2022 encourages optimism for the first time in several years.
A deeper look at cities with available shooting data suggests that a more sustained decline may be afoot though a longer timeframe will be needed to confirm whether this is a big picture trend or just a blip. I found 25 cities that have publicly available YTD data on shootings though the type of data published varied a bit from city to city.2 All of these different types of data are lumped together as “shootings” for the sake of this piece even though they’re all measuring gun violence slightly differently.
Almost all of the cities with available shooting data followed the national trend with large increases in murder in 2020. Murder rose in 2020 in 22 of the 25 cities with murder increasing by 15+ percent in the vast majority (21 of 25) of them. Murder increased by 40 percent or more in 14 of the cities in 2020, far eclipsing the national increase.
The trend for 2022 in these cities is more encouraging from a gun violence reduction standpoint. Shootings are down in 18 of the 25 cities with available data (72 percent) and many are seeing substantial declines. Shootings have dropped by 5 percent or more in 16 cities and 13 of the cities have had 10+ percent declines compared to just 3 cities having with an increase of 5 percent or more.
Year-to-date data can be useful for building a baseline understanding of larger trends, but it paints an incomplete picture. A better way to analyze crime data is to evaluate trends on a 12-month rolling count which accounts for weather patterns and lessens the impact of one-time events3 on the overall trend. The 12-month rolling count will accentuate long term trends in a way that YTD data does not.
There are 14 cities4 out of the initial group of 25 that provide daily or monthly shooting counts since the start of 2019. Gun violence trends in these cities fit somewhat neatly into three categories: Cities where gun violence is falling, cities where gun violence is holding steady below a previous peak, and cities where gun violence is largely at peak and not falling.
Let’s dig in:
Falling Gun Violence - 9 Cities
There are 9 cities (out of the original 14) that clearly show declining gun violence rolling over 12 months including a handful of cities where gun violence is sharply declining. In Chicago, for example, there were 3,641 shooting victims from December 2021 through November 2022 which is down 19 percent from the city’s 12-month rolling peak. Rochester, NY and Minneapolis5 are both seeing similarly sharp declines from their previous peaks.
Gun violence is still much higher than it was in 2019 in most of these cities and there is still far too much of it, but it appears to be trending in a positive direction for the first time since surging in mid-2020.
Shootings in some cities are receding slower than others. In Portland, for example, shootings are up YTD ever so slightly (+1 through October) but the rolling 12-month count had declined 10 percent through October relative to a peak recorded earlier this year. It’s worth remembering though that the pace of shootings in Portland over the last 12 months was nearly three times higher than at the beginning of 2020 and it is still possible that the recent downturn could stop or even reverse.
There are other cities that haven’t posted daily or monthly shooting data that are still showing signs of actively declining gun violence. ShotSpotter alerts in Washington, DC declined 40 percent between the end of 2020 and mid-2022 and they are down 16 percent year on year in Oakland.
Meanwhile, 911 Calls for Service for shots fired/discharging firearms6 are down 20 percent in both San Francisco and San Diego relative to peaks in 2021 with both cities showing nearly identical patterns of rise and fall. This suggests that shootings in both cities are falling though neither city publishes data on shootings.
Down But Steady - 2 Cities
There are two cities (Philadelphia and Cincinnati) that are largely holding steady at a level of gun violence below their previous peak. There were 2,355 people shot in Philadelphia from December 2021 to November 2022 which is down from the 2,532 people shot between August 2020 and July 2021, but well above the 1,473 people shot in 2019. Gun violence rose similarly in Cincinnati and fell about halfway back to the 2020 peak before leveling out.
No Clear Change - 3 Cities
Finally, there are three cities (New Orleans, Baltimore, and Seattle) where gun violence remains at an elevated peak with little evidence of a decline. New Orleans averaged nearly two shooting incidents per day over the past year, more than double the city’s average in 2019, and will likely have the nation’s highest murder rate.
Baltimore is a bit of an outlier in that the city experienced a large increase in gun violence in 2015 and has remained largely steady at that level ever since. But even Baltimore has potential good news with a 33 percent decline in shootings in Baltimore Police Department’s Western District, possibly in response to new strategies being implemented there over the last few months (though these kinds of strategies have sometimes had large initial increases which were not sustained).
Gun violence remains elevated relative to 2019 levels in virtually every one of the cities with available data showing itself to be an intractable problem that is far from the historic lows reached nearly a decade ago. There’s also no guarantee that the national trend will follow this sample’s direction though big cities tend to be good predictors of national murder trends.
It does stand to reason though that if a reasonably common set of factors caused gun violence to rise nearly uniformly at the same time nationally then a similarly common set of factors could also cause gun violence to ebb across a wide swatch of cities at the same. The data point to real reasons for optimism that gun violence may be falling in the United States in 2022 with the 12-month rolling trend in many cities suggesting even bigger potential declines in 2023 and perhaps beyond.
Here’s where I should remind you that the FBI’s switch to NIBRS requires very large confidence intervals for all crime estimates for 2021. If you want to read more about that you can head here.
Data on fatal and non-fatal shooting victims was available in 12 cities, 8 cities publish data on non-fatal shooting victims only with all murder victims clumped together, 2 cities had data on fatal and non-fatal shooting incidents, Cleveland had data on only fatal shooting victims, and New Haven had data on “confirmed shots fired”.
Like a short-lived natural disaster.
Omaha, Charlotte, Nashville, New York City, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Rochester, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Portland, Seattle, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.
Minneapolis shootings are derived from gunshot wound victims.
These types of 911 calls are generally very good barometers of shooting trends.