The reality of declining gun violence in America is starkly at odds with public perception, a new study finds.
The gun homicide rate shrank by 49 percent between 1993 and 2010, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. Violent crime rates surged in the 1960s and ’70s, peaked in the ’80s and early ’90s, and then began to fall dramatically. The decline leveled off in the early 2000s, but resumed in 2007.
Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of the book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Declined,” said the study’s findings didn’t surprise him.
“Rates for all categories of violence have declined since 1992, so that would include gun violence,” he wrote in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
While the study may not have surprised crime experts, most people will be shocked to learn that gun violence is actually plummeting. Pew surveyed Americans on the subject, and found them to be wildly misinformed.
Over half of the survey’s respondents — 56 percent — believed U.S. gun violence was worse today than in 1993. Some 26 percent thought rates of gun violence had likely remained the same. Just 12 percent expressed the factually accurate view that gun violence had declined.
Respondents even indicated that reducing violent crime was moving up on their list of priorities, as if the problem was growing worse, rather than better. (A new Gallup poll, on the other hand, indicates Americans put gun violence in second-to-last place when asked to name rank their top public priorities.)
Though the danger of mass shootings has dominated the national conversation about violence recently, these crimes account for only about 1 percent of all homicides.
“Mass shootings are a matter of great public interest and concern,” wrote the study’s authors. “They also are a relatively small share of shootings overall.”
Why is the public unaware that they are safer from guns than ever? Intense media coverage of violent crimes gives people a false impression of the danger, said Pinker.
“The reason for the misperception is obvious — more media attention,” he wrote. “If it bleeds it leads, and thanks to the ‘availability heuristic’ people judge risk via their familiarity with vivid examples that they can recall from memory.”
Enactment of some form of gun control legislation has been a major goal of President Obama’s agenda since the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
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