The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the highest firearm homicide rates since 1994, with substantial increases among Black and American Indian/Alaska Native males and young adults, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From 2019 to 2020, homicides involving firearms rose 35% to 6.1 per 100,000 people, with the largest increase occurring among Black males between the ages of 10 and 44 and American Indian/Alaska Native males between the ages of 25 and 44.
The increase widened racial and ethnic disparities in firearm homicide deaths, the CDC said. From 2019 to 2020, the firearm homicide rate for Black people between the ages of 10 and 24 was more than 21 times higher than for white people in the same age group.
The overall firearm suicide rate remained relatively unchanged from 2019 to 2020 at 8.1 per 100,000 people, but there were increases among some groups of people, including American Indian/Alaska Native males. In total, there were 24,000 firearm suicide deaths in 2020.
“The increases in firearm homicide rates and persistently high firearm suicide rates in 2020, combined with increases among populations that were already at high risk, have widened disparities and heightened the urgency of actions to prevent violence,” Thomas Simon, associate director for science at the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, said in a call with reporters Tuesday.
The study did not examine the reasons for increasing rates, but Simon suggested the pandemic exacerbated long-standing inequities that contribute to gun violence and suicide including poverty, housing instability, social isolation, job loss and structural racism. Other reasons could include increases in firearm purchases, intimate partner violence and strains in relationships between police and their communities.
In total, there were more than 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020 compared with nearly 14,400 in 2019.
Firearms were involved in 79% of all homicides in 2020, an increase of between 4 and 6 percentage points over the past five years.
Firearm homicide rates increased across all populations, age groups and in both rural and metro areas.
Firearm homicides and suicides were highest among people living in lower-income areas. About 53% of suicides involved firearms.
Housing assistance, child care subsidies, tax credits and livable wages can bring people out of poverty and potentially reduce firearm deaths, the CDC said. Safer storage of firearms has been proven to reduce deaths.