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Increased Crime in American Cities Almost Entirely Fueled By Gun Violence, According to New Giffords Law Center Report

This report explores the factors that likely did—and didn’t—contribute to the unprecedented surge in gun violence of the past two years

Washington DC — Today, Giffords Law Center published new research into surging gun violence in America. The report—which analyzed recent crime data from the 50 largest US cities—found that increased crime is almost entirely fueled by rising rates of gun violence. 

In 2020, 19,384 people were killed in gun homicides—a 35% increase in the gun homicide rate over 2019. This is the largest one-year increase in gun homicides on record. While many cities experienced a rise in gun-related crimes in 2020 and 2021, other categories of crime, including property and non-violence crime, have continued to fall. 

The report also provided additional insight into characteristics of the gun violence surge, finding that while shootings have increased in frequency, gun violence has generally continued to impact the same demographic and geographic groups. Practically, this means that hardest-hit communities continue to bear the brunt of the gun violence crisis.

“Gun violence is a public health crisis that has spiraled out of control, and we must treat it as such,” said Kelly Drane, Giffords Research Director and report author. “Our report puts aside political rhetoric to take an honest look at what is behind surging rates of gun violence in American cities—including the impact of COVID-19 on communities, a breakdown in police-community trust, and surging gun sales—and what we can do to fix it. As gun deaths skyrocket across the country, we hope policymakers will use this research to pass evidence-based policies and save lives.”

For this report, the Giffords Law Center research team analyzed data from 50 of the largest US cities. All but five of these cities saw an increase in homicides in 2020, and at least 32 of these cities saw further increases in 2021. Our analysis included the following insights: 

  • Surging gun violence is likely due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted social services and dramatically increased unemployment rates. Research indicates that erosion of trust in police—and a corresponding reduction in 911 calls in impacted communities—may also be fueling a surge in gun violence. 
  • Skyrocketing gun sales may have also played a part in driving up rates of violence. Americans purchased an estimated 22 million guns in 2020—an increase of nearly 65% over the previous year’s sales. Previous surges in gun purchasing have been found to lead to increases in gun violence, and some indicators suggest these excess purchases may be contributing to current increases. 
  • There is no evidence that reallocations of police funding and so-called “anti-police” rhetoric contributed to recent increases in gun violence. There is also no evidence that changes to criminal legal systems—including declining to pursue charges or impose bail for low-level, nonviolent offenses—are substantially contributing to recent increases in gun violence. 

We recommend the following actions to reduce gun violence in American cities:

This issue must be treated like the public health crisis that it is by using evidence-based approaches. Legislators must take a hard look at what factors are causing the increase in gun violence, while implementing solutions that are responsive to those factors. This moment demands action from leaders to mitigate these increases and protect communities in crisis.

Giffords Research Director and report author Kelly Drane is available to speak with interested members of the media; please reach out to Mary Yatrousis ( to coordinate.


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