2021 had the most mass shootings and gun deaths in recorded U.S. history

In January 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finalized firearm mortality data for 2021. In 2021, gun violence killed 48,830 people in the U.S., a nearly 8% increase from 2020’s record-breaking magnitude of firearm deaths.

Among those killed by gun violence in 2021, 2,571 were children (aged 0-17) – a 12.7% increase over the previous year, according to data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The majority of firearm deaths (54%) in 2021 were firearm suicides, a form of “family fire” (a shooting involving an improperly stored or misused gun in the home) that is rarely discussed despite its tragic frequency.

Over the course of the year, 26,328 people across the country died by firearm suicide, which is a 8.4% increase over 2020.

In 2021, firearm suicide continued to disproportionately affect white people, with 88% of those who died by firearm suicide being white.

The largest rate increase (48% increase) was seen among Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander people, followed by Black people (22.5% increase).

In 2021, 43% of firearm deaths were homicides.

A total of 20,958 people in the U.S. were intentionally shot and killed, which is an 8.1% increase in firearm homicides compared to 2020.

Guns are the most commonly used murder weapon, with victims of firearm homicides accounting for 80.5% of the 26,031 total homicide victims in 2021.

Firearm Homicide continues to disproportionately effect Black people. In 2021, a Black person was over 10 times more likely than a white person to die by firearm homicide.

Among those killed by firearm homicide, 1,537 were children (aged 0-17), or an 11.7% increase over the previous year. In 2021, Black children (aged 0-17) were over 10 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than their white counterparts.

Firearm homicide’s disproportionate impact on Black people, as seen in the CDC’s 2021 data, while staggering is not without precedent because systemic racism is at the root of much endemic gun homicide.

The same cities that experience disproportionate firearm homicide — Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Newark, St. Louis, Chicago — all have large, segregated Black communities with a history of disinvestment.

This segregation and disinvestment didn’t happen by nature, but by design. 

Housing discrimination policies, a decline in industry, and white flight from neighborhoods as Black families moved in caused huge segments of Black people into poverty.

In turn, these policies perpetuated socioeconomic inequalities that undergird much endemic gun homicide.

Tragically, 2021 suffered the most mass shootings ever recorded in the U.S. About 3.4% of total firearm homicide victims, or at least 705 people, were killed in the year’s record 690 mass shootings, which is a 13.1% increase in the number of mass shootings seen in 2020.

As defined by the Gun Violence Archive, mass shootings are events in which at least four people are shot or killed. Over the course of 2021, there were eight high-profile mass shootings, including massacres at spas in Atlanta , a grocery store in Boulder, aSan Jose transit rail yard, and a high school in Oxford, MI.

Fatal unintentional shootings, which include “family fire,” rose by 2.6% in 2021, killing 549 people. The same year, fatal shootings in which the intent was unknown increased by 14.5% from 2020,resulting in the deaths of 458 people.

Fatal shootings by police decreased by 12.1%, killing 537 people. It is important to note that experts suspect there is a severe undercount of the number of people killed by police.

The Washington Post maintains a database that suggested 1,048 people were shot and killed by police in 2021.

In 2021, at least 173 people each day were shot or killed by instances of family fire in the United States, including 91 people shot unintentionally and 82 people impacted by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In 2021, the number of those who died by firearm suicide each day increased by 5 – from 67 per day in 2020 to 72 per day in 2021.

The continued rise in gun violence starting in 2020 coincides with an ongoing sharp rise in firearm sales.

An estimated 17,925,471 firearms were sold in 2021. Although this was a 13.3% decrease compared to the record-breaking sales seen in 2020, it was still 42.2% higher than in 2019.

Research shows easy access to firearms increases the likelihood of firearm deaths and injuries.

Several studies found that areas with higher rates of firearm ownership experience higher rates of firearm homicide, both across the world and across the U.S.

Furthermore, firearms are used in only 5% of suicide attempts, but 54.6% of all suicides in 2021 involved a firearm. This is because about 90% of those who attempt suicide with a firearm will not survive. In contrast, the odds of survival are higher for those who attempt suicide by other methods.

Therefore, the increasing accessibility to firearms across the country may be driving this rise in firearm suicide.

Studies show that access to a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide death by 300%.

Additionally, states with the highest levels of gun ownership experience an unintentional firearm mortality rate 7 times higher than in the states with the lowest levels of gun ownership.

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