Firearm Homicides were down in most large US cities this summer, but remain elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Gun violence rates were "down" year-to-year in 2023, but high rates during preceding summers help explain this.
First, some good news! There were fewer firearm fatalities (intentional, excluding suicides) in over half (26) of the 41 largest US cities with populations >500,000 during the summer of 2023 compared to the previous summer. We can expect mayors of cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston to tout this statistic, since summertime gun violence (kicked off by Memorial Day Weekend) and annual firearm homicides rates have been increasing in cities of all sizes since 2020. However, summertime gun violence is still elevated in practically all major US cities during the post-pandemic era (2021-2023) compared to pre-pandemic (2015-2019) levels. Apparently, violence was down in 2023 largely due to the inordinantly elevated levels preceding it. In the visualizations that follow, I contextualize annual fluctuations in the firearm homicide rate (FHR) in the largest US cities in relation to broader trends observed since 2015. For a deep dive into historical urban homicide and gun violence rates and how these compare to today, please read my post: “Not as Bad as the 1990s?”.
Use the interactive links below to view the annual summertime (Memorial through Labor Day weekend) firearm homicide rate from 2015-2023 in the largest US Cities with >1 million residents.
Summer Firearm Homicides in Largest US Cities, 2015-2023
This similar chart shows the the annual summertime firearm homicide rate from 2015-2023 in the 2nd largest US Cities with populations 500-999k.
Summer Firearm Homicide Rates in 2nd Largest US Cities
These charts are crowded because I wanted to include as many as cities as possible before moving on to the meatier part of the analysis. You can isolate them in the interactive version. Suffice it to say, there are just 14 of 41 cities with populations >500,000 that experienced more firearm homicides in 2023 over 2022. This includes Memphis, Seattle, and Indianapolis. See below:
Firearm Fatalities Increased in 14/41 Large Cities in 2023
However, Firearm Homicide Rates vary substantially in these cities. While it’s alarming that gun murders are up anywhere, it’s much less concerning in Manhattan, where the FHR is 0.7 per 100k compared to Memphis, where it’s 14.1.
2023 Summertime FHRs, Select Cities
Nonetheless, the broader trend experienced by all but a handful of large US cities since 2020 has been one of elevated gun violence compared to pre-pandemic levels. Use the interactive versions of each chart below to see the average summer FHR in 2015-2019, in 2020, and then in 2021-2023.
FHRs in 12/13 Largest Cities Are Up Post-Pandemic
You’ll find that gun violence “spiked” in most cities in 2020 over the pre-pandemic average; they also remain elevated during the present “post-pandemic” era. (I intentionally excluded 2020 from the post-pandemic average in acknowledgement that 2020 was an unusual year. If it were included, post-2019 rates would be much higher.)
FHRs Up in 9/10 2nd-largest US Cities Since Pandemic
FHRs Remain Elevated in 16/18 Large US Cities
Although the trend is heading in the right direction in most large cities, sustained and substantial annual reductions in firearm fatalities are still needed to return cities to pre-pandemic levels, when many experienced their lowest murder rates in the modern era. Below you can see the percent change (mostly increases) in cities’ average FHRs in the post-pandemic compared to pre-pandemic era.
FHRs Have Not Returned to Pre-Pandemic Levels
Finally, this merely reveals what’s happened in the largest US cities across recent summers. As I’ve discussed before, hundreds of small and mid-sized cities are contending with unprecedented rates of gun violence. Firearm fatalities are also the tip of the iceberg of gun violence, since non-fatal firearm injuries occur at least twice as frequently due to the increasing proficiency of trauma surgeons at treating gunshot wounds.
In the upcoming weeks and months I’ll explore such trends and topics in subsequent posts. In the meantime, I hope this information cut through some of the noise (i.e. rampant speculation) regarding gun violence trends in our largest cities. Things are improving, but we aren’t yet out of the woods.