More than 100 deaths a day: Gun violence reached 'staggering' record in 2020, report says

The number of people dying from gun violence in the USA reached a record high in 2020: an average of 124 people dead every day, a new report from Johns Hopkins University found.

The analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions showed there were 45,222 gun deaths in the USA in 2020, a 15% increase from 2019. Gun homicides rose by 35%.

Suicides accounted for more than half of all U.S. gun deaths in 2020 – 24,292, according to the report published last week.

"Folks may be impacted by different types of gun violence, but this is really something that's a crisis across America," Ari Davis, policy adviser at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and the report's lead author, told USA TODAY.

The 45,222 gun deaths was the highest number recorded since the CDC began tracking firearm deaths in 1968, the study authors said. However, the rate of gun deaths, or number of deaths per 100,000 people, was lower than peaks in the 1990s, according to the report.

Gun violence impacted young people acutely: For people under the age of 25, firearms were the leading cause of death, and people under the age of 30 were almost 10 times more likely to die because of gun violence than COVID-19 in 2020, according to the report.

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Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who was not involved in the report, said the findings were not surprising, but "the numbers remain staggering."

"We actually have solutions to (gun violence), and that we really failed to act, I think, is the more striking issue," Benjamin said.

Requiring gun owners to obtain a license before buying a firearm, passing domestic violence and extreme risk protection order laws and investing in community-based gun violence intervention programs were among the policy recommendations in the report.

According to the Hopkins researchers' analysis of the data, the gun death rate in states with weaker gun laws was higher than in states with laws that include purchasing licenses and extreme risk protection orders.

"We invest massive amounts of money in research and solutions to other leading causes of death, and … we should be doing the same for a leading killer of our youth," Davis said. 

The report found wide disparities in how gun violence affects Americans. Men were five times more likely to die by a firearm homicide and seven times more likely to die by a firearm suicide than women. Black men were 15 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than white men, while white men accounted for almost three quarters of all firearm suicides despite accounting for less than a third of the U.S. population.

Among the other findings in the report was a 47% increase in the firearm homicide rate among Black women. "That was a really shocking stat," Davis said.

The report points to factors that coincided with the spike in gun deaths and may have played a role, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a record increase in gun sales, protests and unrest after George Floyd's murder and political divides during an election, including attempts to delegitimize the results.

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"It's not just one thing," said Cassandra Crifasi, director of research and policy at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. "All the structural, social and economic factors and determinants of health that contributed to violence didn't go away when the pandemic hit. In many instances, these factors were exacerbated."

The report found Black people were at highest risk for gun homicide among demographic groups, being more than 12 times more likely to be a victim of gun homicide than white people. Young Black men and male teens 15 to 34 were disproportionately affected, accounting for 38% of gun homicides but representing only 2% of the total population.

"This is a racial justice issue. This is a health equity issue. If we want to be reducing health disparities, we should be addressing gun violence," Davis said.