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Gun death rate rises to 28-year high: 6 key takeaways


Researchers found some alarming trends in firearm deaths in recent years. The study raises important questions for public health approaches to reduce gun deaths.

America’s firearm death rate in 2021 reached its highest point in 28 years, researchers have found.

The nation’s gun death rate reached 14.7 fatalities per 100,000 people in 2021, according to a study published Nov. 29 in Jama Network Open. After seeing some progress in reducing gun fatalities, firearm deaths have risen substantially in the past decade.

Gun deaths were higher among minority groups, the study found. Researchers looked at all firearms deaths, from homicide to deaths by suicide, from 1990 to 2021

“These findings suggest that public health approaches to reduce firearm violence should consider underlying demographic and geographic trends and differences by intent,” the authors wrote.

Gun violence has been seen in hospitals this year. Four people were killed in a shooting at a medical building on the campus of the Saint Francis Health System in Tulsa, Okla. in June. Two doctors, a receptionist and a patient were killed. A nurse and a social worker were fatally shot at Methodist Dallas Medical Center in October.

The American Medical Association announced this month the formation of a task force focused on firearm violence prevention.

Here are some key takeaways from the study.

Progress vanishes

Gun deaths dropped notably for years. Firearms deaths dropped from 15.2 fatalities per 100,000 people in 1991 to 10.1 fatalities in 2004.

But deaths have increased since 2004, rising to 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021, a 45% increase, the study found.

In 2021, there were 48,953 deaths from firearms, the highest number of fatalities since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began compiling data on gun deaths in 1981. America’s population has obviously grown, but the gun death rate is now the highest in 28 years.

Firearm sales rose significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 7.5 million new firearm owners, the researchers noted.

In a commentary published with the study on Jama Network Open, researchers at the University of Michigan noted that firearm deaths are a key factor in health disparities among disadvantaged groups.

“Firearm violence is a worsening problem in the United States, as health disparities have widened in recent years,” the authors wrote in the commentary.

Higher rates among Black men

Black men, particularly between the ages of 20 and 40, are far more likely to lose their lives to gun homicides than white men and other groups.

The data on maximum homicide rates among Black men compared to white men is particularly disturbing. Among Black men between the ages of 20 and 24, there were 141.8 fatalities per 100, 000 people in 2021. By comparison, among white men between the ages of 30 and 34, there were 6.3 gun deaths per 100,000. Put another way, the maximum fatality rate among Black men is 22.5 times higher than the fatality rate among white men.

“The marked recent increase in firearm fatalities among Black non-Hispanic men aged 20 to 24 years is noteworthy and suggests that intervention is required to reduce this concerning recent trend,” the authors wrote.

Among all firearm deaths, including suicide, Black males between the ages of 15 and 39 had the highest fatality rate.

Hispanic men more likely to die

The firearm homicide rate among Hispanic men is also substantially higher than among white men. Among Hispanic men between the ages of 20 and 24, there were 22.8 fatalities per 100,000 people, which is 3.6 times higher than the maximum rate among white men.

Rise in deaths among Black women

Overall, women are less likely to be fatally shot than men. Males had a much higher rate of homicide (10.9 deaths per 100,000) than women (2 deaths per 100,000).

However, researchers found firearm homicides among Black women have more than tripled since 2010. Black female firearm homicides rose from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2010 to 22 per 100,000 in 2021.

“Women can get lost in the discussion because so many of the fatalities are men,” Eric Fleegler of Harvard Medical School, one of the study’s authors, told the Associated Press.

Regional trends

Researchers examined firearms deaths by regions, and found higher rates in the west and in the south, with deaths rising more sharply in the southern states. Comparing the period from 1999 to 2011 until 2014 to 2016, fatalities in southern states rose from 12.8 to 13.9 fatalities per 100,000 deaths, while western states saw a dip in gun-related deaths (10.6 to 10.5 per 100,000).

Metropolitan areas had higher homicide rates than nonmetropolitan areas in 2021 (6.6 fatalities vs 4.8 fatalities per 100, 000 people).

States with more stringent laws on firearm purchases and more comprehensive background checks had fewer gun deaths, the researchers noted.


Males had substantially higher rates of suicide in gun deaths than females in 2021 (14.1 deaths and 2 deaths, respectively, per 100,000 people.)

Suicide rates were highest among white men between the ages of 80 and 84 (46.8 deaths per 100,000).

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