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With gun violence down, is America arming against an imagined threat? (+video)

A Pew study released Tuesday finds that Americans think gun violence has escalated when in reality it's way down from two decades ago. The violence has dropped, meanwhile, even as gun ownership has increased.

The Newtown Action Alliance and The Newtown Foundation hosted a panel Tuesday night about the next steps toward federal gun control legislation. Last month the U.S. Senate failed to pass a law to expand background checks on the purchase of firearms.
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Mass shootings, frantic gun-buying, and more Americans legally carrying guns on the street all point to a country fighting a gun violence epidemic, right?

Not necessarily.

As part of a broader trend of declining crime, gun violence in America – while still high relative to other Western countries – has dropped by 49 percent from 1993 to 2011, while nonfatal gun crimes dropped by 69 percent, according to the US Justice Department.

But that slow-motion decline in Americans turning guns on each other has failed to register with most people, only 12 percent of whom answered the question correctly when asked by the Pew Research Center in a poll released Tuesday. Some 56 percent of respondents said they believed that gun violence had actually increased over the last 20 years.

The reasons for the perception gap are manifold, including a steady stream of high profile shootings and massacres, an increased focus on crime by national media and cable networks, and partisan sniping about gun politics. But the gap is so huge, agrees D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer at Pew, in an AP interview, that it’s hard to explain.

America is still bleeding from gun violence, make no mistake. Some 12,343 people were killed by guns in 2010, keeping the US at the top of the most violent Western countries. The US also has more guns, per capita, than any other Western country, with at least 310 million and as many as 400 million firearms in circulation.

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