US gun violence is deadlier than ever, and Black men majority of victims
Firearm deaths surged in the US during the Covid-19 pandemic, killing a record number of people in 2021. But as America’s gun epidemic gets worse, its burden is not equal.
A new study published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open analyzed firearm deaths over the past three decades – a total of more than 1 million lives lost since 1990. The researchers found that firearm mortality rates increased for most demographic groups in recent years – especially during the pandemic – and vast disparities persisted.
While recent data shows some familiar patterns, the sheer scale of the issue brings the United States to a “new moment in the history of firearm fatalities,” said Dr. Eric Fleegler, a pediatric emergency physician and researcher with Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study.
“At this moment in time, we have seen a dramatic increase that is really unparalleled,” he said. “During the time of the Covid pandemic, going from 2019 up to 2021, we’ve seen over a 25% increase in fatalities in two years alone. That has never happened.”
Overall, men are significantly more at risk. Nearly 86% of all firearm deaths since 1990 have been among men, according to the study, which used data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers found that firearm homicides were highest among Black men, and firearm suicide rates were highest among senior White men.
Rates of firearm homicide for both men and women nearly doubled between 2014 and 2021, but men were still more than five times more likely to die than women. Rates of firearm suicide were also seven times higher among men than women in 2021, despite increasing suicide rates among women over time.
The racial disparities are even starker. The homicide rate among young Black men – 142 homicide deaths for every 100,000 Black men ages 20 to 24 – was nearly 10 times higher than the overall firearm death rate in the US in 2021.
Homicide rates among Black and Hispanic men were highest in the 20 to 24 age group. But for White men, the rate was highest in the 30 to 34 age group. When comparing these groups, the homicide rate was nearly four times higher among young Hispanic men compared with White men, and the homicide rate among young Black men was a staggering 22 times higher than among White men.
Mental health challenges grew throughout the pandemic and violence increased, but a separate analysis from researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that guns made those things significantly more deadly.
Between 2019 and 2021, all of the increase in suicides and most of the increase in homicides was due to guns. The gun suicide rate increased 10% while the non-gun suicide rate decreased by 8%, and the gun homicide rate increased 45% while the non-gun homicide rate increased only 6%.