2021 US gun-related homicides and suicides hit highest rate since 1990s, report finds

<span>Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

US firearm homicides and suicides jumped to their highest rates in three decades from 2020 to 2021, according to a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported that gun-related homicides and suicides both climbed by more than 8% in 2021. Firearms caused 47,286 homicide and suicide deaths, after 43,675 in 2020.

“The overall US firearm homicide and firearm suicide rates in 2021 were the highest documented since 1993 and 1990 respectively,” the CDC said. “Some racial and ethnic groups experienced substantially higher rates in 2021, and among some groups, disparities continued to widen.”

CDC researchers found that Black and Hispanic communities saw the sharpest increase in deaths, with Non-Hispanic Black or African American people continuing to experience the highest firearm homicide rates in every age group.

Overall, firearms caused more than 20,000 homicides and about 26,000 suicides in the US in 2021. The percentage of homicides attributed to firearms rose to 81% from 79% the year before, the highest percentage in more than 50 years.

Firearm-related suicides rose to 55%, a 2% increase from 2020.

The CDC said it could not explain the reasons for the increases, but “multiple social and structural conditions are associated with risk for homicide and suicide”.

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“Systemic inequities (eg, in economic, educational, housing, and employment opportunities) and structural racism have contributed to disparities in outcomes, and the Covid-19 pandemic could have worsened these conditions, especially in some racial and ethnic communities,” researchers said.

The CDC recommended communities and the public health sector practise violence prevention. Initiatives include policies that address underlying risks and inequities, programs that enhance positive social connections or teach coping and problem-solving skills, and therapeutic interventions such as crisis intervention and treatment to address previous trauma.

Cases of anxiety and depression increased dramatically in 2020, amid the Covid-19 outbreak. One study estimated that worldwide, 2020 saw 76m extra cases of anxiety and 53m extra cases of major depressive disorder than what would have been expected had Covid not struck.

While rates of anxiety and depression seem to have decreased among US adults after jumps in the first year of the pandemic, they remain higher than in pre-Covid years.

Related: Gun reformers feel history is on their side despite bleak outlook in Congress

Earlier this year, Joe Biden signed the most significant gun safety legislation in nearly three decades.

The bipartisan legislation toughens background checks for younger gun buyers, keeps firearms from more domestic violence offenders, and helps states pass “red flag” laws allowing groups to petition courts to remove weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The bill was passed a month after a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed. That shooting came less than two weeks after a shooting in a Buffalo supermarket killed 10.