Murder Is Falling In America, Mass Shootings Are Not
Multiple sources point to falling murder and gun violence in the U.S., but mass shootings are not following the same trend.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how Year-to-Date murder data is not particularly reliable until about the summer if you have a sample of 50 to 100 large cities. It is only natural, therefore, that my next post starts off by highlighting the AH Datalytics YTD murder dashboard being live for the first time this year.
You may recall that murder rose by nearly 30 percent between 2019 and 2020, but then things get a little hazy. Murder probably rose around 5 percent in 2021 before falling around 3 to 5 percent in 2022 according to data from big cities. Now that same big city data points to an even larger drop occurring so far in 2023 though I’ll remind you that it is still too early to say whether this trend will persist throughout the year.
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Right now we have a sample of 73 cities with any data produced at all in 2023. Murder is down 9.9 percent in those cities as of mid-April. Some cities only produced data in January, but taking the 48 cities with data through at least February shows an identical 9.9 percent decline YTD. And the trend holds true for the 28 cities with data through March (-10 percent).
Murder was up 1.2 percent YTD in this same sample of cities at this point last year, so this trend can and will shift. But there is a strong likelihood that murder will fall in America for the second straight year in 2023 — while still being elevated relative to 2019. Below is what the nation’s murder trend would look like IF murder falls 10 percent in 2023. That’s a big if though so keep in mind that such a large drop is highly uncertain at this point.
Our YTD dashboard is not an outlier as data from the Gun Violence Archive points to falling shootings nationwide. To show this I grabbed monthly non-suicide shooting victims totals from GVA using the Wayback Machine back to 20181.
To check whether this methodology is solid I compared the number of fatal shootings reported by GVA each month between 2018 and 2020 with the number of fatal shootings reported by the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) program each month — which we know is a good way of measuring national crime trends. The two measures are strongly correlated though they won’t match up because GVA includes unintentional fatal shootings and not every law enforcement agency reports to SHR. Either way, this proves that GVA is a reasonably good source for measuring national gun violence trends.
According to GVA data there were 12,260 shooting victims (both fatal and non-fatal) through March 2023. That’s down 4 percent from the first 3 months of 2022 while still being up 24 percent from the first 3 months of 2020.
The decline in shootings is clearer when graphing shooting victims from GVA rolling over 12 months. Up from pre-2020 but steadily falling, and shooting victims over the last 6 months are down nearly 7 percent relative to Oct 2021 to Mar 2022 suggesting the downward trend may still be accelerating.
All of which is to say that gun violence in America is clearly falling albeit somewhat slowly and it is still high. At the same time, however, mass shootings — defined here as any shooting incident with 4 or more fatal or non-fatal victims — remain persistently high and are accounting for a higher share of all American shooting victims.
There is no consensus definition of mass shootings, but they are rare events no matter how you define them. Well over 90 percent of all people shot in the U.S. each year are shot in a single, double, or triple shooting.
There were 740 people shot in 139 mass shooting incidents in the first 3 months of 2023. That’s 24 percent more people shot in a mass shooting incident relative to the first 3 months of 2022 and 90 percent more people shot in a mass shooting incident relative to the first 3 months of 2020.
Shooting victimization nationwide may be dropping, but the number of people shot in mass shootings appears to be neither rising nor falling. The below graph shows the number of people shot in mass shootings rolling over 12 months according to GVA data. Mass shooting victims are down ever so slightly from the peak in early 2021 though it really hasn’t budged over the last year or two contrary to the national shooting trend.
Shootings falling while mass shootings is leading to a higher share of all U.S. shootings involving 4 or more victims. The vast majority of shootings involve 3 or fewer victims, but the share of mass shootings has risen from 4.2 percent in 2018 to 6.3 percent over the last 12 months.
I am not an expert on firearms or the psychology of mass shootings, so I’ll leave it to others to do a better job of explaining why this trend is occurring. Sometimes the explanation of a trend is obvious, but this one seems to be far more complex and nuanced to be approached in a conclusion paragraph. The data clearly points, however, to positive trends with respect to murder and gun violence in America with no such trend with respect to mass shootings so far.
GVA’s search feature can be tough to use but they post daily numbers so I looked up the number of victims on the last day of each month back to 2018.