A recently published study by Johns Hopkins University has revealed that gun-related fatalities in the United States soared to an unprecedented peak in 2021, marking the highest recorded level for the second consecutive year. The study's findings underscore the alarming reality that firearms violence has now become the leading cause of death among children and young adults in the country.
The report, U.S. Gun Violence in 2021: An Accounting of a Public Health Crisis, is thought to be the most comprehensive analysis of the CDC’s 2021 firearm data to date.
The annual study, which relies on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported a total of 48,830 Americans lost their lives to gun violence in 2021. The data works out to an average of one gun death every 11 minutes, according U.S. Gun Violence in 2021: An Accounting of a Public Health Crisis.
According to the report, there were a total of 26,328 firearm-related suicides and 20,958 homicides recorded in 2021. The study revealed that the gun suicide rate experienced a significant 8.3% rise compared to the previous year, marking the highest one-year increase in over four decades. Similarly, the gun homicide rate witnessed a 7.6% increase.
Additionally, the report indicated that the gun homicide rate saw a staggering 45% surge from 2019 to 2021, whereas the rate of homicides not involving firearms only experienced a 7% increase during the same time frame. Similarly, while the rate of suicides committed with firearms rose by 10% during the mentioned period, there was an 8% decrease in suicides by other methods.
"Guns are driving this increase," says Ari Davis, a lead author on the study.
"I think in some ways that's not surprising, because we've seen large increases in gun purchasing," Davis says. "We've seen a large number of states make it much easier to carry a gun in public, concealed carry, and to purchase a gun without having to go through some of the vetting process that other states have."
In 2021, the deadliest year in U.S. history due to the pandemic, guns also outpaced COVID-19, car crashes, and cancers as the leading cause of death among children and teens — most notably among Black children and teens. While there were more suicides than homicides for the general population, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths for children and teens were homicides.
The study points out that the rise in gun deaths coincides with record gun sales.
The report also highlights that states with the highest rates of gun violence in 2021, such as Mississippi, have considerably weaker gun violence prevention laws compared to states with the lowest gun death rates. According to the study, an individual in Mississippi is ten times more likely to die from gun violence than someone in Massachusetts, which ranked the lowest in terms of gun violence incidents.
The report recommends evidence-based policies to address gun violence including:
Implementing permit-to-purchase laws, also known as gun purchaser licensing.
Using Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Extreme Risk Protection Orders—sometimes called “red flag” laws—to temporarily remove firearms from individuals determined to be at elevated risk for violence.
Investing in community violence intervention programs.
Adopting child access prevention laws mandating safe firearm storage in households with children and/or teens.
Enacting stronger concealed carry permitting laws; and repealing “stand-your-ground” laws.