ANALYSIS: Majority of Gun Murders Took Place in 2% of Counties in 2016

By Aviv Khavich

The vast majority of counties in the US saw little to no gun homicides in 2016. 

The vast majority of counties in the US saw little to no gun homicides in 2016. 

Gun deaths in the United States are extremely concentrated, with just over half of all gun deaths taking place in a tiny minority of counties in 2016. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s interactive morbidity and mortality database, there were 14,415 homicides committed by firearm discharge in 2016. Of these, 7,256 (50.3%) took place in 58 counties, or 1.85% of total counties in the US. Additionally, 75% of these murders (10,817) took place in 6.97% of counties.

The top ten counties for gun murders were Dallas County, TX, Miami-Dade County, FL, Shelby County, TN, Maricopa County, AZ, Baltimore city, MD, Philadelphia County, PA, Wayne County, MI, Harris County, TX, Los Angeles County, CA, and Cook County, IL, with 778 gun murders taking place in Cook County, where the city of Chicago is located. These top ten counties alone accounted for 21.5% of all gun homicides in 2016.

The vast majority of counties, 92.2%, saw less than 10 gun murders that year. Counties with less than 10 deaths had their exact death count suppressed to preserve privacy of victims. 

I performed a similar analysis on all gun homicides from 1999 to 2016. The results were similar: 50% of gun murders took place in 1.62% of counties, 75% in 6.62% of counties, 90% in 21.9% of counties, and 95% in 36.5% of counties. The conclusion is that gun homicide in recent years is overwhelmingly concentrated, in almost entirely urban areas.

Percentage Share of Gun Homicides by Upper Percentage of Counties, 1999 to 2016

From 1999 to 2016, almost all (95%) of gun homicides took place in about a third of all counties.

State analyses of gun homicide rates often overlook the fact that gun homicides are very concentrated in cities. County analysis allows us to see exactly where gun homicides take place, which is arguably more useful for prevention and law enforcement.

This analysis was inspired by a similar one done in 2017 by the Crime Prevention Research Center. The study analyzed murders by county in 2014. 

Data used for this analysis can be found here.