More than 45,000 Americans died in gun-related incidents in the United States in 2020—the highest number on record—and the gun homicide rate reached its highest peak since 1994, according to CDC data.
Gun violence hits an all-time high
According to CDC, gun-related homicides increased from 14,392 in 2019 to 19,350 in 2020, representing a 35% increase. Ari Davis, a policy adviser at the John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, called it the largest one-year increase in gun homicides in modern history. About four in five homicides in 2020 involved firearms, the CDC report said.
Meanwhile, gun-related suicides remained mostly flat, increasing slightly from 23,888 in 2019 to 24,245 in 2020. Therefore, the rise in overall gun deaths was 15% in 2020, CDC said.
CDC also found notable racial disparities in gun homicides. For example, Black men and boys ages 10 to 24 had a gun-related homicide rate 21 times higher than white men and boys of the same age. And Black males ages 10 to 44 had the highest gun-related homicide rate of any race or ethnicity.
According to Thomas Simon, from CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), there was also a link found between poverty and gun-related homicide.
"Firearm homicide rates were higher and showed larger increases among people living in communities at higher poverty levels and were lowest and increased the least among persons living in communities at the lowest poverty level," he said.
CDC's report said gun deaths are a "persistent and significant" public health issue and that the data from 2020 "heightened the urgency of actions that can have immediate and lasting benefits."
According to Simon, the study wasn't designed to determine whether the Covid-19 pandemic played a role in the increase in gun violence, but "disruptions to services and education, social isolation, economic stressors such as job loss, housing instability, and difficulty covering daily expenses" may have played a part.
Debra Houry, acting principal deputy director for CDC and director of NCIPC, called the increase in gun violence "a historic increase" and added that she believes "the pandemic likely contributed to some of" the increase in gun violence "when you look at communities that were already hard hit that then are facing economic losses, job issues, additional stressors."
Houry said the report shows the need for targeted prevention. "The message for policymakers is we can address these disparities at the community level," she said.
"Programs, policies, and practices can reduce risk for violence and inequities by focusing on the places and the people experiencing the greatest burden of violence, as well as the underlying conditions contributing to risk," she added.
For example, Houry said "street outreach workers" or "violence interrupters" who mediate potentially deadly conflicts and deescalate them, have shown "promising results."
"We're talking about statistics, but those numbers are lives," she said. "That's why we have to focus on what we can do. … Because it is preventable. It's not inevitable." (Firth, MedPage Today, 5/10; Berman, Washington Post, 5/10; Rabin/Arango, New York Times, 5/11; Sullivan/Greenfieldboyce, NPR, 5/10; Cooney, STAT News, 5/10; Hellmann, Roll Call, 5/10)