Blake Wood
Publish Date

In a new analysis, University of Illinois Springfield Associate Professor of Political Science Magic Wade found from 2015-2021 many cities in the United States surpassed historical gun violence rates observed during the 1990s. She looked at data from small, mid-size and large U.S. cities.

The analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Homicide Studies, contextualizes heightened gun violence in the present era using firearm homicide and injury data from 1,328 American communities. The report finds that the absolute number of U.S. cities reaching firearm homicide rates surpassing the peak 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,” Wade said. “Gun violence is not merely a red state or blue city problem, it is a worsening phenomenon affecting American communities everywhere.”

 Wade included small and mid-sized U.S. cities in her analysis, showing that in many cases they have recently surpassed firearm homicide rates in major metros. Contrary to common practice, Wade demonstrates why we must include cities of all sizes in our research, reporting and policy discussions.

While prior studies have emphasized large cities, 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.

“For too many American communities, it’s not as bad as the 1990s, it’s worse,” Wade said. “A shared sense of the scope and severity of the problem of gun violence is urgently needed.”

Her analysis looked at data from before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, finding that 2019 marked a turning point in worsening firearm violence across U.S. cities of all sizes. The data reveal 2019, rather than 2020, was a decisive turning point in worsening firearm violence across all city-size groups.

“Prior to that year, fatal and non-fatal shootings unsystematically rose or fell,” Wade said. “After 2019 and through 2021 average rates of fatal and non-fatal shootings only increased across all city-size groups. This shows a broad trend of increasing gun violence that started in 2019, accelerated in 2020, and continued in 2021.”

Wade’s analysis also found that firearm homicide rates are highest in the South, followed by the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. The full analysis can be read online.