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Crime scene tape sections off the scene of a shooting, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in southwest Baltimore. (AP) Crime scene tape sections off the scene of a shooting, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in southwest Baltimore. (AP)

Crime scene tape sections off the scene of a shooting, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in southwest Baltimore. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman February 15, 2024

The US homicide rate has dropped, but Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy overstates effect of gun law

If Your Time is short

  • President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer in Communities Act into law in June 2022. The law provided $750 million to help states implement "red flag laws" and crisis intervention programs. It also improved background checks and made it a federal offense to traffic guns and to buy guns on someone else’s behalf.

  • Using data from hundreds of cities, criminologists have estimated that 2023 homicides were down around 12% compared with 2022.

  • Criminologists said it’s hard to pinpoint one catalyst, but noted that the decline comes after a pandemic-era spike in violent crime and likely relates to a confluence of factors, not the new law alone. Other contributors may include an easing of the pandemic’s social disruptions and cities’ heightened crime-reduction efforts in response to homicide spikes.

  • Learn more about PolitiFact’s fact-checking process and rating system.

President Joe Biden’s allies are countering claims that his age is hurting his ability to govern. Sen. Chris Murphy said the president’s acuity helped create a law that cut deadly gun violence.

"I worked with (Biden) on the bipartisan gun bill. He was involved in every step of that process," Murphy, D-Conn., said Feb. 11 on CBS’ "Face the Nation." "And what has happened since we passed that bill? A 12% reduction in urban homicides in this country." 

Murphy is referring to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that Biden signed into law in June 2022 after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. The legislation combined gun safety provisions with mental health and school security resources and marked the first gun control measure from Congress in nearly three decades.

Murphy’s press office pointed us to homicide statistics that largely match his figures. It also cited a speech Murphy gave on the House floor in which he repeated the number and said that there had been a 10% reduction in gun injuries and deaths in the last year, thanks to the law.

Criminologists and gun policy experts confirmed that U.S. homicides have dropped 10% to 12% over the last year — the lion’s share of them from guns. But the decline represents a reduction from big spikes in violent crime at the COVID-19 pandemic’s apex and experts told us that change likely relates several factors, not one law alone. 

Violent crime is down from pandemic-era peak

The FBI won’t release its 2023 national crime statistics until the fall, but experts said preliminary data matches up with Murphy’s statistic. "Urban" homicides, as he put it, are homicides committed in densely populated cities where crime is typically more concentrated. 

Jeff Asher, a crime data analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics, estimated that homicides in 2023 were down around 12% compared with 2022 in 211 cities with available data. Seventy-one percent of the cities evaluated saw a decline. If the projected decline bears out in the FBI data, Asher said, it would represent one of the largest — if not the largest — single-year homicide drop since U.S. crime recordkeeping began.

Murphy referred to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a "gun" bill, and although his statistic covered all urban homicides, the vast majority of homicides in the U.S. involve firearms — about 81% in 2021, according to Pew Research Center. 

The Gun Violence Archive, an independent nonprofit, estimated that deaths and injuries from gun violence declined 8% to 10% in 2023 compared with 2022.

Asher also said that a drop in homicides overall generally represents a comparable drop in gun homicides. 

"Guns account for 80-90% of murders in most cities and 77% nationally in 2022, so most of the changes in murder levels are attributable to changes in gun violence," he wrote in an email. "I'd guess that whatever percent decline we see in 2023 was almost exclusively driven by guns. In New Orleans, for example, there were 65 fewer fatal shooting incidents in 2023 than 2022 and one less non-gun homicide incident."

In its 2023 analysis, the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan think tank, found that the number of homicides in the 32 cities it studied was 10% lower than the previous year. The decline follows the group’s 2022 analysis, which found that homicide counts for that year were 4% lower than in 2021. 

These declines come with a huge caveat: They represent drops from big COVID-19-era violent crime spikes in 2020 and 2021. Overall, preliminary data shows the United States’ 2023 homicide rate is expected to be about 18% higher than it was in 2019.

What the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act did

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act provided $750 million to help states implement crisis intervention programs and "red flag laws" designed to help temporarily take firearms from people if they pose a danger to themselves or others. The act also closed domestic violence loopholes, improved background checks, made gun trafficking illegal and outlawed what is known as "straw purchases," when someone buys a gun on someone else’s behalf. It also increased funding for mental health and school safety services.

Because of the legislation, the Justice Department has so far brought gun trafficking charges against more than 200 people, The Washington Post reported in December; about 80 were charged with violating the law’s straw purchase provision. The law has also led to law enforcement seizing more than 1,300 guns from suspected gun traffickers between mid-July 2022 and late October 2023, according to a report by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

President Joe Biden has also touted the law’s impact in a Jan. 4 press release, saying the enhanced background checks enacted by the legislation led to the denial of "more than 500 illegal gun purchases by people under 21 years old."

Several factors likely contributed to the decline, experts say

Criminologists and data analysts told us that pinpointing the precise reasons national crime data changes is challenging at best and impossible at worst. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act likely helped drive down the numbers, they said, but should not be credited as the predominant driver. 

"There are many theories about what is driving these changes, but I have not seen research that explains them convincingly, and I have seen no research, convincing or otherwise, that has attempted to estimate the effect of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on 2023 urban homicides," Andrew Morral, senior behavioral scientist at the Rand Corp., a nonpartisan think tank, and director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, told PolitiFact. 

"Could it have had the effect of reducing urban homicides? Yes," Morral wrote in an email. "Are there other factors likely influencing recent declines in homicide rates? Very likely."

Criminologists said the declines in the last two years likely relate to a confluence of factors, including the fading tensions surrounding George Floyd’s murder by police and the easing of the pandemic’s social disruptions, restrictions and anxieties. Cities also aggressively undertook urgent violence-reduction strategies to respond to homicide spikes, experts said. 

Experts also noted that the decline in homicides is uneven throughout the country, and some cities have experienced more homicides, not less.

Alex Piquero, a criminology professor at the University of Miami and former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, pointed to what he described as "staggering increases" in 2023 homicides in Washington, D.C., Memphis, Tennessee, and Oakland, California.

"If this law is causing gun homicides to come down, then what happened in these cities? If national legislation is causing the decline, it should be doing it everywhere but it’s not, Piquero said. "Could what those monies were used for have influenced some of the trends? Maybe, but it’s virtually impossible to measure a national aggregate change and some law and how it deals with things at the local level."

Still, the law’s advocates contend that it enables the federal government to identify and charge the most violent offenders, thereby supporting local law enforcement efforts to reduce homicides.

Our ruling

Murphy said the Bipartisan Safer in Communities Act led to 12% reduction in urban homicides in 2023.

Preliminary data shows urban homicides across the country decreased about 12% in 2023 compared with a year earlier.

But that data ignores that this one-year decline came after violent crime spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, preliminary data shows the United States’ 2023 homicide rate is expected to be about 18% higher than it was in 2019, pre-pandemic.

Criminologists said the law likely helped drive down the figures in 2023, but they added that the  drop likely relates to a confluence of factors, including the easing of the pandemic’s social disruptions and the way cities responded to homicide spikes.

Murphy’s claim is partly accurate but leaves out important information. We rate it Half True.

RELATED: Ask PolitiFact: What does the data show on deadly shootings by 18-to-20-year-olds? 

RELATED: Congress passes historic bipartisan gun legislation: Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

Our Sources

CBS News, Face the Nation transcript, Feb. 11, 2024

Congress.gov, Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, June 2022 

The New York Times, Crime on the Decline, Jan. 11, 2024

Murphy.Senate.gov, BIPARTISAN SAFER COMMUNITIES ACT, Accessed Feb. 12, 2024

Murphy.Senate.gov,Murphy: Survivors Helped Change Our Nation's Gun Laws, Leading to Record Drop in Urban Homicides, Jan. 24, 2024 

WhiteHouse.gov, Statement from President Joe Biden on Stopping Over 500 Illegal Under-21 Gun Purchases Through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, Jan. 5, 2024 

WhiteHouse.gov, FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces 13 New Actions to Reduce Gun Violence by Maximizing the Benefits of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, May 14, 2023 

Jeff-alytics, Crime in 2023: Murder Plummeted, Violent and Property Crime Likely Fell Nationally, Dec. 11, 2023

AH Datalytics, YTD MURDER COMPARISON, Accessed Feb. 12, 2024

Pew Research Center, What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S., April 26, 2023 

Gun Violence Archive, 10 Year Review, Updated Feb. 13, 2024 

Council on Criminal Justice, Crime Trends in U.S. Cities: Year-End 2023 Update, January 2024

The Trace, Gun Violence by the Numbers in 2023, Dec. 31, 2023 

Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, U.S. Gun Violence in 2021: An Accounting of a Public Health Crisis, June 2023

The Washington Post, Feds have charged more than 250 people under new gun trafficking law, Dec. 4, 2023

Gillibrand.senate.gov, FIREARMS TRAFFICKING & MENTAL HEALTH IN THE BIPARTISAN SAFER COMMUNITIES ACT, December 2023 

NPR, Is gun violence an epidemic in the U.S.? Experts and history say it is, June 29, 2023

USA Today, The US passed a landmark gun deal one year ago. Is it working?, June 19, 2023  

ABC News, 'It is historic': US poised to see record drop in yearly homicides despite public concern over crime, Dec. 28, 2023 

PolitiFact, Congress passes historic bipartisan gun legislation: Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, June 24, 2022 

PolitiFact, What is the ‘boyfriend loophole,’ and how does the new gun law close it?, June 30, 2022 

Phone interview, Alex Piquero, criminology professor at the University of Miami and former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Feb. 12, 2024

Email interview, Jenifer Warren senior editor and director of media relations at the Council on Criminal Justice, Feb. 12, 2024

Email interview, Jeff Asher, crime data analyst and co-founder of Datalytics, Feb. 12, 2024

Email interview, Andrew Morral senior behavioral scientist at the Rand Corporation and director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence, Feb. 12, 2024

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The US homicide rate has dropped, but Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy overstates effect of gun law

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