Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a University Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
New Orleans is like Honduras, Detroit is similar to El Salvador.
"We can't put this off any longer," President Obama implored the nation last week as he introduced 23 executive actions designed to reduce gun violence in America. While the United States has the highest level of gun ownership per capita in the world, its rate of gun homicides, about three per 100,000 people, is far lower than that of Honduras, the country with the world's highest gun homicide rate (roughly 68 gun murders per 100,000 people). But America's homicide rate varies significantly by city and metro area, as I pointed out here at Cities a few weeks ago.
The map below compares the rate of gun murders in American cities to nations around the world. Building upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data used in that post, Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute compiled additional data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other sources collated by The Guardian. (While international crime data suffer from significant reporting and comparison issues, homicide data is more reliable. As the Urban Institute's John Roman points out, it is the one type of crime that is "hard to fake" and also most likely to be reported.)
The pattern is staggering. A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.
- If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
- Detroit's gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
- Baltimore's rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
- Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).
- Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).
- Atlanta's rate (17.2) is about the same as South Africa (17).
- Cleveland (17.4) has a higher rate than the Dominican Republic (16.3).
- Gun murder in Buffalo (16.5) is similar to Panama (16.2).
- Houston's rate (12.9) is slightly higher than Ecuador's (12.7).
- Gun homicide in Chicago (11.6) is similar to Guyana (11.5).
- Phoenix's rate (10.6) is slightly higher than Mexico (10).
- Los Angeles (9.2) is comparable to the Philippines (8.9).
- Boston rate (6.2) is higher than Nicaragua (5.9).
- New York, where gun murders have declined to just four per 100,000, is still higher than Argentina (3).
- Even the cities with the lowest homicide rates by American standards, like San Jose and Austin, compare to Albania and Cambodia respectively.
Yes, it's true we are comparing American cities to nations. But most of these countries here have relatively small populations, in many cases comparable to large U.S. metros.
The sad reality is that many American cities have rates of gun homicides comparable to the some of the most violent nations in the world.