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Gun homicide down 49 percent since 1993; Can we be less afraid?

Two new studies on the prevalence of gun violence in our society have concluded that both gun-related homicides and other crimes involving weapons have dropped sharply since 1993 and continue to decline. The two studies, by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the nonpartisan group the Pew Research Center, both tied the reduction in gun violence to an overall drop in all violent crimes over the past few decades.

This information confirms previous trends, but a big part of the story is how few Americans seem to be aware of the drop in violent crime. The Pew Center did a poll in March that found the majority of Americans -- 56 percent -- actually thought that gun crimes are more frequent now. Only 12 percent of respondents correctly said that gun crimes had been dropping.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics found a 39 percent drop in the actual number of gun-related homicides between 1993 and 2011. Pew, which took into account population gains and measured the number of weapons homicides per person, found a 49 percent drop between 1993 and 2010. Both studies found a 70 percent drop in gun crimes that did not result in death.

When people don't know the truth about crime statistics, they're likely to rely on press reports to get a sense of how safe their communities are. Unfortunately, crimes of shocking violence like the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting are the ones reported most aggressively. When an immense tragedy occurs, it's natural for people to be concerned that violence is a growing problem in our society.

The murder rate is half of what it was in the 1990s. In fact, a previous report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 found that the U.S. homicide rate had fallen to 1970s levels, after peaking in the 1980s and 1990s.

Still, we all acknowledge that the murder rate is too high. The important thing for us to remember as citizens is that an environment of fear can lead to poor policy decisions and the erosion of our civil rights. We have the obligation to stay informed and urge lawmakers to make their decisions based on real data.

Source: NPR, "Reports Show Gun Homicides Down Since 1990s," Associated Press, May 7, 2013

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