Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a new report compiling nearly two decades of data on gun crime, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011. No doubt, many readers will pore over the report’s abundant tables and graphs looking for support for their views on gun control. However, I was most struck by a breakdown of firearm violence based on population size (table 5). Among the six size-based categories, the most dangerous places were cities of 500,000-999,999 — the category containing Milwaukee (pop. 597,867). These mid-large cities not only have rates of gun crime that are about four times higher than cities of less than 100,000, but they are also forty-four percent higher than cities of one million or more.
More specifically, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 4.6 nonfatal firearm victimizations per 1,000 persons age twelve or older in the mid-large cities in 2010 and 2011. (Nationally, homicides constitute only two percent of all gun-related crimes, so the NCVS numbers would not change much if fatalities were included, too.) The second-highest rate was 3.9, for cities with 250,000-499,999.
The numbers look very different today than they did in 1996-1997, when the Milwaukee-sized cities were tied for second place with 7.3 victimizations per 1,000, and the medium-sized cities (250,000-499,999) led with 10.3.
I have two reactions to the data. First, the relationship of community size to gun violence is in some respects predictable, and in others quite puzzling. (more…)