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U.S. murder rate hits 30-year low

The nation's murder rate fell in 1997 to a level last seen 30 years ago, but young Americans with firearms still are killing each other at a relatively high rate, the Justice Department reported Saturday.

The nation's murder rate was 6.8 per 100,000 people, or 18,209 murders, about the same as rates during the late 1960s and the lowest since 6.2 per 100,000 in 1967. The 1997 rate was down from highs of 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980 and 9.8 in 1991. In 1950 the rate was 4.6 per 100,000.

"Our cities are now the safest they have been in a generation," the White House said in a written statement. "A variety of studies show that crime, and especially homicide, should continue to decline into the next year, and that is good news for Americans in 1999."

The Clinton administration attributed the declines to a 1994 crime law strongly supported by the president.

The Justice Department's statistical arm, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, released its analysis of FBI crime data for 1997 showing that while city dwellers remained more likely to be murder victims, much of the decline in the murder rate was posted in the nation's largest cities. In cities with populations above 1-million, the murder rate fell from 35.5 per 100,000 in 1991 to 20.3 per 100,000 in 1997.

The sharp increase in killings in the late 1980s and much of the subsequent decline are attributable to a rise and fall in gun violence involving young people, the report said.

Still, while firearm killings by 25-year-olds and older plummeted by roughly half to about 5,000 between 1980 and 1997, gun killings by young people 18 to 24 increased from about 5,000 in 1980 to more than 7,500 in 1997.

Other findings:

Americans 18-24 were the most likely murder victims in 1997, with a rate of 33.2 per 100,000 people.

Murder rates generally were higher than the average in the South and on the West Coast and lower in New England and the Rocky Mountain states.

Men are most likely to be the killers and the victims. Men were more than nine times more likely than women to commit murder, and both men and women killers are more likely to target male victims.

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