It seems like there are multiple mass shootings every week in America. Most recently, two people killed 14 and wounded 21 in an attack on a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. The motive of the shooters is as yet undetermined, but it’s looking more and more like it was an act of self-radicalized Islamic terrorism.
However, despite the perceived jump in mass attacks and increased calls for stricter gun control, the fact of the matter is that gun violence — and deaths as a result of gun violence — has been on the decline for two decades now:
In 1993, there were seven homicides by firearm for every 100,000 Americans, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2013, that figure had fallen by nearly half, to 3.6 — a total of 11,208 firearm homicides. The number of victims of crimes involving guns that did not result in death (such as robberies) declined even more precipitously, from 725 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 175 in 2013.
Older data suggests that gun violence might have been even more widespread previously. The rate of murder and manslaughter excluding negligence reached an apex in 1980, according to the FBI. That year, there were 10.8 willful killings per 100,000 people. Although not a perfect measure of the overall rate of gun violence, the decline in the rate of murder and manslaughter is suggestive: Two in three homicides these days are committed with guns.
This decline in gun violence is part of an overall decline in violent crime. According to the FBI’s data, the national rate of violent crime has decreased 49 percent since its apex in 1991. Even as a certain type of mass shooting is apparently becoming more frequent, America has become a much less violent place.
Undoubtedly, there are people (read: liberals) who will scoff when they see that America has become a less violent place over the last 20 years. But numbers don’t lie. As for why violence is on the decline, researchers have identified five potential explanations.
1. Increased police forces
In the 1990s, local governments began increasing resources to their police departments in order to up recruitment to better combat crime. Additionally, in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a major crime bill that granted federal funding for law enforcement agencies to add 100,000 officers nationally. In New York City, economist Steven Levitt estimates that larger police forces reduced crime by 5 to 6 percent.
Police departments also began using computers to collect data on crime and direct their officers more efficiently. This way, law enforcement officials were able to effectively identify high-crime areas. New York again lead the way in developing a crime data system, and it’s estimated by the Brennan Center for Justic that the use of such systems has decreased homicide rates across the country by 11 percent.
3. Less booze
Americans drank 21 percent less alcohol in 2000 than they did in 1980. Although consumption has increased since then, a the Brennan Center study suggests that the decline in alcohol consumption can account for 5 percent to 10 percent in the overall decline of crime.
4. Less lead
Lead has been shown to make humans more aggressive. Refiners were required to sell unleaded gasoline after the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, and Jessica Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, has estimated that the removal of lead reduced violent crime in the generation born after the passage of the law by 56 percent (although that figure is disputed).
5. A better economy
Unemployment dropped under the booming economy of the Clinton administration. When people have more money they have more resources to dedicate to protecting themselves from crime (such as installing a security system). Furthermore, people with a stable income are less likely to commit a crime in order to obtain money. According to the Brennan Center, the stable economy can probably explain around 5 to 10 percent of the drop in crime.
So perhaps the reason we’re hearing about a mass shooting every week is because the news is more inclined to report them these days, given the current tense political climate across America and the world over. However, data shows that gun violence and deaths are down — and there’s no reason to take gun rights away from law abiding citizens.