WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Gun-related homicides and other crimes involving guns have fallen sharply over the last two decades in the United States, but most Americans believe firearms crime is higher now than 20 years ago, according to an analysis and a separate poll released on Tuesday.
Some 11,101 gun-related homicides were reported in the United States in 2011, a figure that is down 39 percent from the 1993 peak, the Justice Department reported. Nonfatal firearm crimes declined by 69 percent to 467,300 in the same period.
Amid an intense national debate about gun control - which flared anew in the wake of a December shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead - some 56 percent of Americans believe that gun crime is higher now than it was 20 years ago, the Pew Research Center said its poll showed.
Only 12 percent of Americans realize that gun crimes have fallen, the center said in a statement. The Pew survey was based on a March 14-17 survey of 924 adults and had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.
The drop in gun crime mirrors a general fall in U.S. violent crime. The Justice Department study found that for fatal and nonfatal firearm crimes, most of the decline occurred from 1993 to 2002.
In 2011, about 70 percent of homicides and 8 percent of nonfatal violent crimes, such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, were committed with a firearm, mainly a handgun.
From 2007 to 2011, about 1 percent of victims in nonfatal violent crimes reported using a firearm to defend themselves.
The Justice Department findings were based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler