The ongoing debate over mass shootings and gun control made me curious about the rate of actual firearm violence over the last few decades. I was surprised to see that virtually every chart available online contained cherry-picked data, either devoid of historical context, or a decade out of date.
So, I took the time to dig through the FBI’s website, found the relevant data, and built my own spreadsheet. This covers the years 1964-2016 (the 2017 data is not available yet), and provides a clear look of how firearm homicides fit into the broader picture of murders, and what the trend is over time.
As you can see, for the duration of these statistics, the majority of murders have been committed with firearms. However, after peaking in the early ’90s, the rate of total murders steeply declined. Around 2014, the rate began to climb again.
There are a couple of important conclusions that can be inferred from this data.
1. The hysteria over mass shootings is largely unjustified, because the number of mass shooting fatalities is only a tiny fraction of total deaths. In 2016, there were roughly 15,000 murders, of which 71 were from mass shootings. That’s less than 1/2 of 1%, and far lower than the number killed each year by “unarmed” assailants using only their hands, feet, etc.
2. Although we still have a murder rate that is comparable to the early ’70s or late ’90s, the trend is going in the wrong direction. This means that some concern about a societal shift in attitudes towards violence is warranted. How best to address that concern, of course, is open to debate.
Whatever your feeling is on violent crime or gun control, I hope that this objective information helps guide you to a more fully informed position.