Gun-related deaths reach highest level in 25 years, CDC study found

Gun-related deaths in 2020 were the highest on record in over 25 years, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In 2020 alone, 79% of all homicides and 53% of all suicides involved a firearm and while all population groups experienced gun-related deaths, some groups were more impacted than others, the CDC noted. 

Nearly 20,000 Americans were killed in gun homicides in 2020, with the rate increasing 4.6 to 6.1 per 100,000 persons. 

More than 24,000 Americans killed themselves with firearms in the same year, a slight increase over the 23,888 Americans who died by suicide using a firearm in 2019. 

"The tragic and historic increase in firearm homicide and the persistently high rates of firearm suicide underscore the urgent need for action to reduce firearm-related deaths. We must work together by taking preventative actions that have both immediate & long-term solutions," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, wrote in a tweet on Tuesday. 

The CDC did not research the reasoning behind the surge but pointed to "long-standing systemic inequities" and structural racism which limits economic and educational opportunities that the agency said contributes "to unfair and avoidable health disparities among some racial and ethnic groups." 

"Firearm homicide rates are consistently highest among males, adolescents and young adults, and non-Hispanic Black or African American (Black) and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) persons; firearm suicide rates are highest among males, older adults, and non-Hispanic White (White) and AI/AN persons," according to the health agency. 

The firearm homicide rate among Black males aged 10–24 years was 20.6 times higher than the rate among White males of the same age in 2019, and this ratio increased to 21.6 in 2020. 

Although the overall firearm suicide rate remained relatively unchanged between 2019 and 2020, young persons and some ethnic minority groups experienced increases in firearm suicide. 

The largest increase occurred among AI/AN persons, resulting in the highest firearm suicide rate as of 2020 among this group, according to the CDC. 

While the CDC did not look into the reasoning behind the surge, researchers took into account economic status among data sets and found that unsurprisingly multiple factors such as income inequality, unemployment, and housing insecurity could have played a role in the increased numbers. 

Also noteworthy were the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC posited that multiple stressors such as changes and disruptions to services and education, mental stress, social isolation and job loss caused by the impacts of the ongoing pandemic could have likely contributed to the higher gun-related deaths.  

Gun deaths

FILE - The Gun Violence Memorial, which is composed of 40,000 flowers that represent the deaths from gun violence in the U.S. each year, is pictured on the mall as members of Congress conducted a news conference to highlight the importance of federal (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Guns were the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020

In April, the CDC analyzed data from a group of researchers who published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine and found that gun-related deaths rose sharply among children and adolescents in 2020.

The information revealed there were more than 45,200 firearm-related deaths in the U.S. in 2020, calling it "a new peak." Researchers said the trend had been climbing upward from 2015 to 2019 but reported a 13.5% increase between 2019 and 2020. 

Researchers also said the increase was driven by homicides which also saw a 33.4% jump between 2019 and 2020 and suicides which increased by 1.1%. They said up until recently, firearm-related injuries came second to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death from people between one and 19 years old. 

The analysis showed drug overdoses and poisoning also increased by 83.6% from 2019 to 2020 among children and adolescents and became the third leading cause of death in that age group.

COVID-19 itself resulted in 0.2 deaths per 100,000 children and adolescents in 2020, according to the report.

Analysts said they can’t explain why gun-related deaths rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic but said they can’t assume it will return to pre-pandemic levels in the future.

Gun-related deaths continue to increase

The uptick in gun violence appears to have continued in 2021, with several cities setting records for homicides last year, including Atlanta, Austin, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Portland, St. Paul, and several others. 

Murders in Chicago reached 797 last year, up 25 from 2020. Los Angeles saw 397 homicides in 2021, the most in 15 years, while New York City had the highest number of homicides since 2011.

FOX News and Chris Williams contributed to this report. This story was reported out of Los Angeles.