A viral meme shared on social media following the Parkland, Fla., shooting claimed the United States has the third-highest count of murders worldwide, a ranking that would drop dramatically if five major cities were excluded.
The image has been circulating since at least 2015.
We decided to take a closer look. Is the United States third in murders, and are a few outlier cities responsible? That’s false by any standard.
The main study of intentional homicides is performed by the United Nations’ Office of Drug Control. The UN warns against cross-national comparisons because of the differences in legal definitions of intentional homicides and recording practices.
Our count of the UN’s data placed the United States ninth in intentional homicides. We used the most up-to-date count for each country and territory, which included data anywhere from 2007 to 2015.
As the country with the third-highest population size, however, experts told us the number of people killed is not a very useful metric.
Controlling for population size, most criminologists use the per 100,000 metric. By that standard, we found the United States ranked 94th.
When we counted only the countries for which the UN had 2015 data, the United States ranked 73rd. That’s still far from the top ten.
The meme argues that a few outlier cities with stringent gun control legislation are responsible for the United States’ high homicide count. But that’s not true, either.
Chicago, Detroit, Washington, St. Louis and New Orleans have homicide rates well above the national average, but that’s typical for large urban cities.
While Detroit, St. Louis and New Orleans are consistently among the top five American cities by homicide rate, the cities with most per-capita murders vary from year to year. Neither Washington, D.C., nor Chicago make the top five.
Chicago has a high number of homicides because of its population, but its homicide rate is middle of the road for large U.S. cities, according to Jay Corzine, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida.
Specific reasons for the cities’ high murder rates largely remain a mystery for criminologists, but all are cities with "high poverty levels, inequality, significant segregation, and an entrenched drug trade," Corzine said.
Dropping them from the U.S. total has little substantive impact on the U.S. homicide rate or count.
The cities cited in the meme accounted for 1,568 of 17,250, or 9.1 percent, of all homicides reported to the FBI in 2016, Tom Kovandzic, a criminologist at the University of Texas, Dallas, calculated for us. And without those cities, the homicide rate (per capita) would only decline by 7.73 percent, or from 5.34 to 4.93.
When we applied those reductions to the UN data, the United States barely budged in its international standing. It moved down four spots in per capita murders and stayed the same in total murders. That’s inconsequential compared with the 186-spot jump the meme concocted.
Gun control laws are mostly controlled by state legislatures. Washington, D.C., is the only listed city able to enact strict ordinances, while Chicago can do some things, according to Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
We’ve previously rated the claim that Chicago has the strictest gun laws Pants on Fire.
"The other lie in this claim is that all five of the named cities have stringent gun regulation. Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri would be very surprised to hear that!" said Philip Cook, a sociologist at Duke University.
The states didn’t impress the Giffords Law Center, a pro-gun control group. Missouri ranked 48th, Louisiana 43rd, and Michigan 16th on a scale that gives higher rankings to restricted gun ownership and use.
The image said, "The United States is 3rd in murders throughout the world. If you remove Chicago, Detroit, Washington, St. Louis and New Orleans, the United States is then 189th out of 193 countries in the entire world."
By no measure is the United States third in total homicides or homicide rates. Excluding the named cities from the count had little to no impact on the United States’ international standing.
Three of the cities named in the meme are consistently the top cities for intentional homicides in the United States, but the other two are not. They are by no means outliers, either.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!