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Elevated Gun Violence in U.S. Cities of All Sizes

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Photo by Maria Lysenko on

Observes political science professor, Magic M. Wade, “Gun violence is not merely a red state or blue city problem, it is a worsening, widespread phenomenon affecting American communities everywhere.”

A new analysis of gun violence before and during the Covid-19 pandemic highlights previously overlooked trends. “Not as Bad as the ‘90s”? Firearm Violence in Small, Mid-size, and Large US Cities, 2015-2021” by Magic M. Wade, professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois Springfield contextualizes heightened gun violence in the present era using firearm homicide and injury data from over 1,300 American communities. 

The report finds that the absolute number of US cities reaching firearm homicide rates surpassing the peak US gun murder rate observed in 1993 has increased every year since 2015, with a 30% spike in fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries in 2020 that worsened in 2021. The data shows that the problem is much more widespread than previously thought. Dr. Wade included small and mid-sized US cities in her analysis, showing that in many cases they have recently surpassed firearm homicide rates in major metros. Contrary to common practice, Dr. Wade demonstrates why we must include cities of all sizes in our research, reporting, and policy discussions.

While prior studies have emphasized large cities, Dr. Wade finds that 42% of all firearm homicides occur in communities with populations under 250,000, and over two-thirds of the country’s most violent cities have fewer than 100,000 residents. A firearm homicide rate of 7.0 per 100,000 (equivalent to the 1993 peak national rate) was met or surpassed in 863 communities in 2021. A stunning 25 cities endured a rate of 52.0 per 100,000, which is equivalent to or higher than the world homicide rate record set by El Salvador in 2021. The report is a wake-up call for policymakers to take action to address gun violence in communities of all sizes across the country. Journalists and policymakers should avoid attenuating the perceived severity of gun violence by using outdated rhetoric and should focus on mobilizing policy actors to address this nationwide issue.

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Magic Wade

Magic Wade is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the School of Politics and International Affairs at UIS. Dr. Wade received her PhD from the University of Minnesota and her scholarship on collective bargaining rights, prison-based higher education, urban politics, and gun violence is featured in the Labor Studies Journal, Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, and (forthcoming) Homicide Studies.

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