Firearm-related homicide rate soars amid stress of pandemic, CDC says

The rate at which Americans were killed in gun homicides jumped nearly 35% in 2020 to the highest level in more than 25 years, according to new search by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amid the pandemic and ensuing recession, rates of firearm homicide rose the most among groups that were already at higher risk, the researchers found — including people in poor areas, young men and blacks.

In 2020, the firearm homicide rate was 6.1 per 100,000 Americans, down from 4.6 a year earlier.

“These findings underscore the importance of comprehensive approaches that can stop violence now and prevent future deaths,” said CDC Acting Senior Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry.

No group has been more affected than black people, who die by firearm homicide at a far higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group.

Black men and boys between the ages of 10 and 24 died by firearm homicide more than 21 times more often than white men in the same age group, according to the report.

Worse still, 2020 has widened the gap between blacks and other groups: the rate of firearm homicides among non-Hispanic blacks increased by 7.5 percentage points, an increase more than four times greater than other.

“We are losing too many children and young people from our country, especially black boys and young black men,” Houry said.

More than 19,000 homicides in 2020 involved a firearm, an increase of nearly 5,000 from 2019.

The findings follow statistics released last fall by the CDC and FBI showing the United States saw an unprecedented rise in murders in 2020, a jump of almost 30% compared to 2019.

A possible explanation for this jump was stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as “changes and disruptions in services and education, social isolation, economic stressors such as loss employment, housing instability, and difficulty meeting day-to-day expenses,” said Thomas Simon, the associate director for science at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

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Gun deaths have long been linked to economic factors such as income inequality, unemployment and housing instability.

“When you look at the pandemic, things like job loss, economic stressors, social isolation — these are hard-hit communities already,” Houry said.

Even though the number of gun homicides has risen dramatically, most gun deaths in the United States have remained suicides, researchers have said.

The rate of firearm suicides — about 8 per 100,000 Americans — remained roughly flat in 2020, a trend that has held for several years.

But the finding comes as suicide rates declined overall in 2020, said Mike Anestis, a Rutgers University professor and executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center.

He pointed record gun sales during the pandemic as a likely factor. More than 20 million weapons were sold in 2020, compared to 12.4 million in 2019.

“I think the understated point in this article is that the changing demographics of gun ownership and the increase in gun ownership probably played a role in that,” said Anestis.

The overall proportion of homicides and suicides caused by firearms has also increased, the researchers noted. In 2020, 79% of all homicides and 53% of suicides involved firearms – both figures several percentage points higher than in previous years.

“Both are unacceptably high when you look at the number of people who die of homicide or suicide in the United States. We need to do something about it because it’s preventable. These deaths are preventable,” Houry said.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Spanish: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or Crisis text line by texting HOME to 741741.

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