Independence Day weekend is almost always the time of year when gun violence kills or injures the most people. But this year, there were fewer people shot than in any year since 2019.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, 245 people were injured or killed in shootings on the holiday, a 20 percent decrease from last year and a 46 percent decrease from the height of the pandemic in 2020.

“There’s a lot of positive data points that are very consistent with us getting to a better place,” said Daniel Webster, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

“We’ve come a long way in a very short period of time,” Webster said. “When things are getting bad we shouldn’t feel hopeless and helpless, we should get to work.”

The reduction in violence over the holiday weekend follows a downward trend since the start of the year. Day by day, the number of people killed and injured by guns has fallen since its peak during the pandemic years, when gun violence surged past previous records.

If the trend continues, it is likely this year will finish with fewer than 50,000 Americans killed or injured by guns, which last occurred in 2019.

While it is tempting to blame the pandemic for the increase in gun violence from 2020 to 2022, Webster said, there were many complicated social forces at play. As COVID peaked and the protests around the murder of George Floyd were exploding, the overall level of trust in the government and the criminal justice system eroded. 

“When our faith in government tanks, we tend to get more violent,” Webster said. “People were freaked out and not having faith in any system to keep them safe.”

This lack of faith led to a surge in gun purchases and the resultant violence that accompanied the influx of weapons, he said.

Now, that is unwinding. Communities are placing a bit more faith in their police departments again. Meanwhile, officers, feeling less hostility, are more active, resulting in more homicides being solved.

Webster said community violence prevention initiatives have had a multiplier effect. “If you prevent one shooting, you’re really preventing a cascade of shootings that could have occurred,” he said. In other words, if one person is convinced not to shoot someone, that can lead to more people not acting out violently. 

Ultimately, because so many shocks to society happened at the same time, it may take years for researchers to identify the effect of any individual policy or change on the decrease, Webster said.

A late-summer surge is always possible, of course. And while the decline is encouraging, even pre-pandemic levels of gun violence make the United States an extreme outlier compared to other wealthy countries around the world. In 2019, the U.S. gun homicide rate was 3.152 per 100,000 residents, more than four times the rate in Canada and 58 times the rate in the United Kingdom. Countries with similar rates to the U.S. included Nicaragua and Argentina.

“I think it’s literally going to take us years to sort through a lot of different data points,” Webster said. “Everything changed at the same time.”