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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during 2007 there were 18,361 homicides in the United States, making murder the 15th most common cause of death. The murder rate rose during the 1970s and 1980s, leveled off, and it is actually in decline as a percentage of the population. This is small comfort, of course, to the families of homicide victims. Despite the decrease, the homicide rate in the United States is higher than that in most of the developed world. Up to 15% of all American homicides occur between family members and spouses. About two-thirds of all homicides occur during the commission of another crime. In any given year, several hundred of the homicide victims are police officers killed in the line of duty.

Death by homicide does not occur uniformly over the breath of the American nation. Males, minorities, the young, and people living in poverty are most likely to become homicide victims, or, for that matter, commit homicides. Two-thirds of all homicides are accomplished using firearms, a phenomenon particularly exacerbated by the problem of gang violence, commonly fueled by the drug trade. Large metropolitan areas see most gun violence, especially in depressed “inner-city” areas. Some American cities are particularly dangerous. In some years, New Orleans, Louisiana has a homicide rate up to ten times the national average. Ironically, New York City, once thought to be a violent place, has a homicide rate at just about the national average. States in the south and west of the country tend to have higher incidence of all violent crime than states in the north and east.

Large-scale acts of homicide like the Virginia Tech massacre, which led to the gunfire deaths of 32 people in 2007, or the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 that killed 12 students and a teacher, create true shock in the American populace. As horrible as these killings may be, they do not begin to take the toll in lives that can be attributed to the gang violence that occurs in so many American communities.

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