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Blog Post · September 25, 2023

Gun Incidents Drive a Climb in Violent Crime Rates

photo - Police Unit Responding to Call

Driven by homicides and aggravated assaults, violent crime in California has been ticking up since 2019. The recent crime numbers also make clear that guns are contributing to the problem, as 59% of the overall increase in violent crimes involve firearms. While the share of violent crimes involving guns dipped in 2022—except for robberies, which continued to tick up—it remains above pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, violent crime in 2022—the year of the latest data—was up by 13.5% compared to 2019, and by 26.4% compared to 2014, when the rate first started to rise. Homicides in 2022 were down by 6.1%. This decline reversed a troubling increase that began with a sharp jump in 2020—but homicides are still up by 25.3% compared to 2019. Aggravated assaults are still rising, up by more than a quarter relative to 2019. Robberies also increased—by 9.9%—but remain below pre-pandemic levels.

figure - Driven by aggravated assaults, violent crime has been ticking up most years since 2014

The share of violent crimes involving firearms fell to 24.3% in 2022, but remained above the pre-pandemic level; the shares of these crimes vary by type. The vast majority of homicides involve a firearm: at 71.4%, the rate is lower than 2021 but higher than 2019. Robberies involving a gun have been increasing every year since 2019 and now stand at 28.8%. Aggravated assaults involving a gun dipped in 2022 to 24.3%. Crime data do not include whether reported rapes involved a firearm. Aggravated assaults with a gun have jumped by 61% since 2019, homicides by 38%; while robberies overall are down, those involving a firearm are up by 13%.

figure - Shares of violent crimes involving firearms dipped in 2022 but remain higher than pre-pandemic levels

The prevalence of guns in violent crimes differ widely across counties. Looking at the state’s 15 largest counties, San Joaquin and Alameda Counties have the highest rates of violent crimes with guns:

  • In San Joaquin and Alameda, nearly 40% of violent crimes involve firearms, while in Orange County and San Diego the rate is 14%.
  • In San Joaquin and Alameda, close to 90% of all homicides involve guns; in San Mateo the share is 38%.
  • In Alameda, 48% of robberies are with a gun; in San Diego, 15% of robberies are with a gun.

San Joaquin’s 40% share of aggravated assaults involving guns is also notably higher than other large counties. The next highest shares are Alameda and Los Angeles with 28% and 27%, while in four counties the share is less than 15% (San Mateo, San Diego, Orange County, and San Francisco).

figure - Shares of violent crimes involving firewarms are notable higher in San Joaquin and Alameda counties

California has long been viewed as having the strictest guns laws in the nation, with the legislature passing and proposing multiple bills aimed at addressing the prevalence of guns. Policy changes passed by the state legislature include restricting minors from buying and possessing a firearm and prohibiting the possession or transfer of unidentified firearms (i.e., ghost guns). In addition to legislation, the California Firearm Violence Research Center and the Office of Gun Violence Prevention were launched in recent years to examine the nature of gun violence and better understand ways to prevent it.

More broadly, the latest statewide crime numbers show that violent crime has continued to increase since 2014, and that this is primarily driven by aggravated assaults. While previous research found no link between violent crime and criminal justice reforms, including Proposition 47 (2014), those studies did not extend beyond 2016. Research aimed at determining whether those findings hold up today would be especially valuable but is made challenging by additional criminal justice reforms and the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter is especially important as most of the increases are post-2019. Furthermore, while 2021 FBI changes in crime reporting hamper comparisons of California’s crime trends to other states, similar patterns can be seen elsewhere in the nation.


crime Criminal Justice gun laws gun violence guns Political Landscape