Gun homicide rate rises 35% during pandemic, reach 25-year-high, CDC says

Firearm injuries surpass car crashes as leading cause of death for young people.

Firearm homicide rates grew nearly 35% from 2019 to 2020, with disparities by race or ethnicity and poverty level widening, according to new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Meanwhile, the firearm suicide rate rose for people age 10 to 44 from 2019 to 2020, according to CDC. Physicians also noted firearm injuries have surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for people age 24 and younger.

“Firearm injury is, tragically, a major public health problem in the United States,” said Debra Houry MD, MPH, CDC acting principal deputy director and director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

In a May 10 conference call with news outlets, Houry said as an emergency room physician, she saw firsthand the pain and destruction that firearms injuries cause, and why they must be prevented.

Physicians have an important role in preventing homicides and suicides. CDC works with other federal agencies on preventing gun violence, and community-level partnerships, with law enforcement, clergy, clinicians, public health workers and parents working together, can prevent deaths, Houry said.

Homicides

Guns were involved in 79% of all homicides and 53% of all suicides in 2020. Firearm homicides rose 35% from 2019 to 2020, resulting in the highest firearm homicide rate in more than 25 years, according to a CDC Vital Signs analysis. There were 45,222 firearm deaths in the United States in 2020, according to CDC.

Among the trends, there are disturbing disparities, particularly in homicide rates for young Black men, Houry said.

Firearm homicide rates are consistently highest among males, adolescents, young adults, and non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people.

In 2020, firearm homicide rates increased across all age groups, with the highest rates and increases observed among those 10–44 years old. Considering age, sex, and race/ethnicity simultaneously, the largest increases in firearm homicide rates were among non-Hispanic Black males 10–44 years old.

CDC said key findings for firearm homicides include:

  • Rates increased for both males and females, but more notably among males.
  • The highest rates and increases occurred among non-Hispanic Black persons.
  • Rates increased across the country in large and small metro areas, as well as non-metro and rural areas.
  • Rates were higher and showed larger increases in counties with higher poverty levels.

Suicides

The overall firearm suicide rate remained nearly level between 2019 and 2020, with age-specific rate increases among persons 10–44 years old, partially offset by a decrease among those 45–64 years old. Considering age, sex, and race/ethnicity simultaneously, rates of firearm suicide increased most notably among non-Hispanic AI/AN males aged 10–44.

Among the CDC key findings for firearm suicides:

  • The overall rate remained nearly level between 2019 and 2020.
  • Rates increased most notably among non-Hispanic AI/AN males aged 10–44 years old.
  • Overall, rates were highest at the highest poverty level and lowest at the lowest poverty level.
  • Non-metro and rural areas experienced the highest rates.

Long-standing systemic inequities and structural racism may contribute to unfair and avoidable health disparities among some racial and ethnic groups.

Youth at risk

The latest CDC figures follow at least two articles noting that in 2020, firearms surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for children and adolescents age 1 to 19.

Since the 1960s, there have been continuing efforts to prevent deaths from motor vehicle crashes, and the number of deaths declined from 2000 to 2020, researchers said. There are a number of programs and policies that could help reduce firearm injuries to youths, authors Lois K. Lee, M.D., M.P.H., Katherine Douglas, M.D., and David Hemenway, Ph.D., said in their article.

“As the progress made in reducing deathsfrom motor vehicle crashes shows, we don’thave to accept the high rate of firearm-relateddeaths among U.S. children and adolescents,” the authors said.