Although these decreases are historic and worth celebrating, putting them into context is important. Gun violence surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2021 saw a record number of gun murders—up 45 percent from 2019. Similarly, the 2023 national murder rate is estimated to still be above pre-pandemic levels. And the declines from 2022 are not being felt evenly across the United States. Many U.S. cities are making only marginal public safety improvements or none at all, and new analysis from the Center for American Progress shows that weak state gun laws likely contributed to the lack of progress in those places. Analysis of incident-level data from the Gun Violence Archive reveals that of the 300 largest U.S. cities, cities in states with the strongest gun laws experienced 19.4 percent fewer total gun homicides in 2023 than in 2022, while cities in states with the weakest gun laws saw only 5.1 percent fewer total gun homicides—more than a 14 percent difference between cities in states with the strongest gun laws and those with the weakest gun laws.
Of the 300 largest U.S. cities, cities in states with the strongest gun laws experienced 19.4 percent fewer total gun homicides in 2023 than in 2022, while cities in states with the weakest gun laws saw only 5.1 percent fewer total gun homicides.
CAP analysis of Gun Violence Archive data
This stark contrast should alarm the state leaders who are denying the passage of commonsense gun laws that are keeping residents in other states safer. Until lawmakers everywhere get serious about protecting people over guns, there will be two Americas when it comes to public safety.
Until lawmakers everywhere get serious about protecting people over guns, there will be two Americas when it comes to public safety.
A note on available 2023 data
Despite not having 100 percent of police precincts reporting data, the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) represents the gold standard for analyzing and understanding U.S. crime and gun violence trends. Unfortunately, however, 2023 NIBRS data are not expected to be released until October 2024, so researchers cannot utilize them to understand trends in real, or even close to real, time. Preliminary data from AH Datalytics, meanwhile, provide information on 175 cities but only track the homicide rate, not specific gun violence trends, for cities with public data.
For these reasons, CAP conducted its analysis using Gun Violence Archive (GVA) data on the 300 most populous U.S. cities. The Gun Violence Archive allows users to download incident-level data through a limited query system based on geographic area or incident attributes of interest. To conduct analysis on the 300 largest U.S. cities, CAP used a GVA-approved API key to pull the required data at scale. This is significant as an in-depth preliminary analysis of U.S. gun violence trends. Evidence from CAP’s dataset illustrates two vastly different stories of gun violence in 2023 based on the strength of state gun laws.
States with the strongest gun laws experienced larger declines in gun homicides
Each year, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence releases an Annual Gun Law Scorecard that grades the strength of all 50 states’ gun laws (not including Washington, D.C.) based on analysis from legal experts. Based on this scorecard system, CAP analysis of Gun Violence Archive’s incident-level data reveals that states with the strongest gun laws historically have had lower overall rates of gun violence and also saw larger overall decreases in gun homicides from 2022 to 2023:
- 36 states saw their gun homicide rate decrease from 2022 to 2023.
- States that received an “A” grade from Giffords in 2023 experienced a 13.7 percent drop in total gun homicides from 2022 to 2023. States with an “F” grade, meanwhile, experienced only a 5.1 percent decline in total gun homicides over the same time period. No state with an “A” rating saw an increased gun homicide rate in that period.
- Of the 14 states that saw increased gun homicide rates from 2022 to 2023, seven had a rating of “D-” or lower, and only two had a rating of “A-.”
- Of the states that saw increased gun homicide rates from 2022 to 2023, one state with a grade above “F” had a population-adjusted gun homicide rate above the 2023 national average of 6.1 gun homicides for every 100,000 people.
Cities saw similar trends, depending on the states in which they are located. Of the 30 largest U.S. cities based on population size:
- 21 cities saw gun homicides trend down in 2023. Of these cities, the 10 cities that saw the largest declines in gun homicide rates from 2022 to 2023 were Detroit; San Jose, California; Portland, Oregon; Baltimore; Los Angeles; San Diego; Houston; Boston; New York City; and Philadelphia. Seven of these 10 cities are in states with a Giffords grade of “A-” or higher, and only one of those cities—Houston—is in a state with a grade lower than “B-.”
- Of the 10 cities—El Paso, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Dallas; Seattle; Nashville, Tennessee; San Antonio, Texas; Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Phoenix—that saw the largest increases in gun homicide rates from 2022 to 2023, seven cities are in a state with an “F” grade, and only Seattle is in a state with a grade higher than “D-.” Washington’s grade is “A-.”
- Of the 300 largest U.S. cities, cities in states with a grade of “A” experienced 19.7 percent fewer total gun homicides in 2023 than in 2022. However, only three states— California, New Jersey, and Connecticut—received an “A” grade from Giffords. Expanding the sample to include cities in states with a grade of “A-,” the trend is substantively unchanged: Cities in states with the two highest grades experienced 19.4 percent fewer gun homicides overall in 2023 than in 2022. Cities in states with “F” grades, however, saw only 5.1 percent fewer gun homicides over the same time period.
- Of the 30 largest U.S. cities by population, Detroit, San Jose, and Portland saw the largest year-to-year changes in gun homicide rates from 2022 to 2023.
Historic declines in gun violence across the country in 2023 are evidence that progressive public safety strategies—in particular, stronger gun laws—are making families safer. Major federal investments from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, along with state-led actions such as the passage of an assault weapons ban in Illinois, a child access prevention law in Maryland, and investments in extreme risk protection orders in Michigan and Minnesota, are helping the nation realize the promise of a public health approach to reducing gun violence. However, it is important not to lose sight of how much more needs to be done to protect families from the daily impacts of gun violence. Even though 2023 is estimated to have experienced a historic, double-digit decline in the national murder rate, gun homicide rates are still above pre-pandemic levels. Now is the opportunity not only to sustain progress but also to deepen investments in evidence-based solutions in order to end the United States’ gun violence epidemic once and for all.