Gun-control protesters and NRA members clash outside the group's 2022 Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski
Gun-control protesters and NRA members clash outside the group's 2022 Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: The Murder Rate Appears to Be Dropping. How Will That Impact Gun Politics? [Member Exclusive]

After a multi-year spike following the onset of the COVID pandemic, the U.S. homicide rate looks to be falling. If that continues, it could usher in a reshuffling of the country’s current gun politics.

The murder rate is down roughly 11 percent in 100 major U.S. cities through the first half of the year, according to crime analyst Jeff Asher. Though the overall murder rate is still about 12 percent above pre-pandemic levels, according to the AH Datalytics dashboard, the numbers are on track to land about 10 percent lower than last year.

That drop would “be among the largest declines in murder ever formally recorded,” according to Asher.

He found that the U.S. homicide rate declined slightly in 2022 from 2021 levels as well, though not to the same degree as in the first half of 2023. That means that the decline in murder has been more sustained than just a simple six-month window of good fortune. If Asher’s analysis is anything close to accurate, and the reduction in homicide continues to be as substantial as it appears, the American people will eventually take notice.

As it stands now, they don’t seem to know quite yet. A series of recent polls have identified violent crime and gun violence as a significant focus for voters, so much so that the public has even begun to sour on the need to defend gun rights.

A May NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found the highest number of Americans in over a decade who say the need to defend gun rights is less important than reducing gun violence. It found 60 percent of Americans now think controlling gun violence is more important, including 55 percent of self-described political independents, while just 38 percent say the opposite. That’s up significantly from a decade ago when the public was evenly split on the question.

Additionally, a June poll from Pew Research found 60 percent of Americans now say violent crime and gun violence are “a very big problem.” The number of respondents who rated gun violence as a “very big problem” increased 12 percent since 2016 and was up nine percent since May of last year.

That same poll found that 58 percent of Americans want gun laws to be stricter, up five points from 2021. There was also an 11-point increase since 2018 in the number of Americans who say overall gun ownership does more to “reduce safety by giving too many people access to firearms and increasing the chances for misuse.”

In other words, as broader concerns over gun violence and violent crime began to increase alongside real-world increases in homicide, so too did support for gun control and negative feelings toward guns. As the reverse starts to happen with homicides, support for gun rights may begin to rise again.

However, some important caveats could complicate that. While murder appears to be declining, mass shootings do not appear to be abating. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which takes an expansive definition covering any incident in which four or more people are shot, the U.S. is currently on a record pace for mass shootings in 2023.

Even under a more traditional definition like the one used by the Violence Project—which tracks events where four or more people are killed in public shootings, except those attributable to underlying criminal activity, such as robberies or gang fights—2023 is shaping up to be a particularly grim year. The site tracked seven such incidents in all of 2022, while there have already been five recorded this year.

Though such events only represent a small fraction of the country’s homicides every year, they tend to disproportionately capture the psyche of the American public, shape political narratives around guns, and have the largest impact on public opinion over gun control. That means that whatever boost gun-rights supporters might otherwise receive from an overall decline in homicide could ultimately hinge on the frequency of mass shootings moving forward.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what happens over the next six months. If current trends hold and there is a substantial reduction in homicides, historical polling dynamics would suggest that could be a boon for political support for gun rights. But the ongoing scourge of mass shootings could thwart any potential polling boost unless those also start to decline.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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