Gun-Related Fatalities Hit 28-Year High in 2021

November 30, 2022 by Dan McCue
Gun-Related Fatalities Hit 28-Year High in 2021
A collection of illegal guns is displayed during a gun buyback event, Saturday May 22, 2021, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

ATLANTA — The rate of gun-related deaths in the U.S. reached a 28-year high in 2021 after sharp increases in homicides of Black men and suicides among White men, a new analysis of federal data shows.

A record 48,953 deaths in the U.S., or about 15 fatalities per 100,000 people, were caused by guns last year, said the analysis published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open

Gun-related deaths had actually been on the decline in the 1990s, but began rising steadily over the past decade and surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 20% jump from 2019 to 2021, according to the researchers.

Dr. Chris Rees, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, told The Wall Street Journal that while gun-related deaths of women and children have also risen, men are far more likely to die from firearm-related incidents.

Rees and his colleagues analyzed U.S. firearm fatality rates from 1990 to 2021 using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that period, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. died in these incidents, the analysis showed.

According to the researchers, more than 100 firearm deaths occur in the United States each day. 

In 2021, there were 48, 953 fatalities from firearms, the highest number of firearm deaths recorded since the CDC began tracking injury fatalities in 1981.

Previous study findings suggested a recent increase in overall firearm-related mortality rates, and firearms are now the leading cause of death in youths aged 1 to 19 years, accounting for 20% of adolescent deaths, the researchers said.

In 2019, firearm injuries and fatalities cost an estimated $410 billion in medical costs, work loss, quality of life lost, and total value of life loss.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 393 million privately owned firearms were distributed among 40% of U.S. homes.

Firearms sales surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 7.5 million new firearm owners, and 5.4 million homes previously without firearms now containing firearms.

The increase in firearm ownership was associated with the exposure of more than 16 million people to firearms in the home for the first time.

Along with this marked increase in firearm ownership, researchers found both homicide and suicide rates “rose 8% last year, each hitting levels not seen since the early 1990s.” 

They also found that firearm homicides were highest among Black men, and firearm suicide rates were highest among senior White men.

“Despite the large burden of firearm fatalities and the ubiquitous availability of firearms in the U.S., a contemporary analysis, including age, sex, race, ethnicity, and urbanicity of individuals killed by firearms, is lacking, to our knowledge,” the researchers said. “Moreover, prior studies have not included trends in firearm fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Such understanding may inform interventions to decrease firearm fatalities by targeting populations in specific geographic areas who have higher rates of firearm fatalities from homicide or suicide,” they said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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  • JAMA
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