A Warped Perspective: Homicide Rates in U.S. Cities


In the United States, we’ve become all too familiar with reports of violence on the nightly news. “If it bleeds,” the saying goes, “it leads.” And after so many years of being inundated with reports of yet another drive-by shooting, yet another random killing, yet another horrible tragedy, it’s easy to see how our perspective on what is and isn’t normal might have become a bit warped.

Many of our urban centers have become synonymous with killing. Just this past year, Chicago earned itself the dire distinction of hosting the highest raw number of murders in any city in the country, “besting” the much-larger Los Angeles and New York City with a total of 513 homicides. That’s just seven more murders than the 506 that took place across the whole of Japan in 2011.

Frighteningly enough, the Windy City doesn’t even crack the top ten when compared to other US cities based on the overall homicide rate (# of homicides/population). To put things back into perspective, take a look at how the most violent American cities (by 2011 homicide rate) compare to the total number of murders that took place in entire countries elsewhere around the world:

New Orleans: 193 homicides (360,740 citizens)
Uruguay: 199 homicides (3,318,535 citizens)

Detroit: 411 homicides (706,585 citizens)
Romania: 421 homicides
(19,043,767 citizens)

St. Louis: 113 homicides (355,663 citizens)
Tunisia: 117 homicides
(10,732,900 citizens)

Newark: 89 homicides (277,140 citizens)
Sweden: 91 homicides
(9,540,065 citizens)

Baltimore: 217 homicides (619,493 citizens)
Lithuania: 219 homicides
(3,053,800 citizens)

Oakland: 131 homicides (390,724 citizens)
Hungary: 133 homicides
(9,982,000 citizens)

Kansas City: 108 homicides (459,787 citizens)
Gambia: 106 homicides
(1,782,893 citizens)

Philadelphia: 331 homicides (1,526,006 citizens)
Namibia: 352 homicides
(2,100,000 citizens)

Atlanta: 85 homicides (432,427 citizens)
Slovakia: 84 homicides
(5,445,324 citizens)

Cincinnati: 53 homicides (296,943 citizens)
Ireland: 54 homicides
(6,399,152 citizens)

Four of these countries (Uruguay, Lithuania, Gambia, and Namibia) do have a national homicide rate higher than that of the United States. And yet, if they were all American cities, Namibia would only be the 15th most violent, Gambia the 26th, Lithuania 46th, and Uruguay 52nd.

More responsible gun laws will not stop murders from happening, but they can make them much more difficult, and thus less likely. A majority of homicides in the United States today are committed with firearms–and this has been true for decades. We’ve previously cited research that shows bluntly that more guns = more murder.

If you’re tired of seeing so much killing in American cities, show your support for the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and Demand a Plan to end gun violence. Let’s change the perspective:

Join more than 750 mayors across the U.S. supporting this effort and follow the discussion in your city:

“I want a plan to end gun violence in New York City

Mayor Bloomberg
“I want a plan to end gun violence in San Francisco

Mayor Lee
“I want a plan to end gun violence in New Orleans

Mayor Landrieu
“I want a plan to end gun violence in Chicago

Mayor Emanuel
“I want a plan to end gun violence in Los Angeles

Mayor Villaraigosa
“I want a plan to end gun violence in Atlanta

Mayor Reed
“I want a plan to end gun violence in Minneapolis

Mayor Ryback
“I want a plan to end gun violence in Memphis

Mayor Wharton
“I want a plan to end gun violence in Oakland

Mayor Quan

» Join the discussion and show support in your city