The Rockefeller Institute of Government has updated the Gun Violence in the United States interactive dashboard using new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Underlying Cause of Death database. This interactive resource presents statistical information on the realities of gun violence in the United States between 2000 and 2021, the most recent year of data available. With 2021 standing as yet another record-breaking year of firearm violence in the nation, these updated numbers provide insights into the occurrence of deadly firearm violence as well as opportunities for comparison with previous years before, during, and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another Record-High Year for Gun Deaths
Firearm-related deaths in the United States rose again in 2021, with 48,830 people killed, the highest number ever recorded. The firearm mortality rate, which represents the number of firearm-related deaths per 100,000 citizens, was 14.7 in 2021. This represents an 8 percent increase over the 45,222 gun deaths that occurred in 2020 and a 69.9 percent increase over the 28,663 in 2000. The continued annual increase in firearm-related deaths following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic comes after a four-year period of relative stability in these statistics. Notably, however, unlike the increase from 2019 to 2020, which was largely driven by gun-related homicides, the change from 2020 to 2021 was impacted by similar increases in both firearm homicides and suicides.
State Rankings for Gun Deaths Remain Largely Consistent
To adjust for differences in population, we compare the firearm mortality rate across states. Mississippi, Louisiana, and Wyoming were among the states with the top five highest mortality rates in 2021, consistent with 2020. New Mexico and Alabama rounded out the top five; both states were among the 10 states with the highest mortality rates in 2020 and 2021.
States with Highest Firearm Mortality Rate (Gun Deaths Per 100,000) in 2021*
|State||Firearm Mortality Rate||Rank in 2020|
*If included, Washington, DC (firearm mortality rate of 27.61 per 100,000 people in 2021) would rank third.
States with Lowest Firearm Mortality Rate (Gun Deaths Per 100,000) in 2021
|State||Firearm Mortality Rate||Rank in 2020|
Consistent with 2020, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island had the five lowest firearm mortality rates across states in 2021. The rankings did change slightly, with Massachusetts and Hawaii switching places for the lowest and second-lowest rates, and New York and Rhode Island switching places for the fourth and fifth lowest rates.
The total number of gun deaths in the United States increased by 8 percent between 2020 and 2021. This translates to one additional gun death per 100,000 people in 2021.
More States Experienced a Decline in Gun Deaths Between 2020 and 2021
The total number of gun deaths in the United States increased by 8.0 percent between 2020 and 2021. This translates to one additional gun death per 100,000 people in 2021. While the majority of states exhibited increases in firearm mortality rates from 2020 to 2021, just four of these (Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, and North Dakota) grew by more than 3 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Of these, Mississippi experienced the largest increase, with 5.04 additional gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2021 compared to 2020.
At the same time, six states saw a decline in mortality rates between 2020 and 2021, up from five states between 2019 and 2020. The states with declines in 2021 were Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, and West Virginia. Of these, Idaho had the largest decline in firearm mortality rates, with 1.31 fewer deaths per 100,000 citizens in 2021 compared to 2020.
Changes in Firearm Mortality Rates by State
|State||Change in Firearm Mortality Rate (2020-2021)|
The Increase in Gun Deaths is Driven by Both Homicides and Suicides
The CDC primarily classifies firearm deaths as assault (homicide), self-harm (suicide), unintentional, or undetermined in the Underlying Cause of Death database, although there also are additional special codes for law enforcement, war, and terrorism that are used less frequently. While the overall increase in gun deaths in 2020 was driven by a significant increase in the number of firearm-related homicides (increasing 34.5 percent over 2019, compared to a 1.5 percent increase in gun suicides), the increase in 2021 is attributable to both firearm-related homicides and suicides. From 2020 to 2021, the number of gun homicides and suicides nationwide increased by 8.1 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively.
As with 2020, the District of Columbia had the highest firearm homicide rate in 2021. The District’s homicide rate of 25.22 firearm-related homicides per 100,000 people was 3.19 gun murders higher than 2020. By comparison, the District’s 2021 rate was nearly 18 times higher than the same year for Massachusetts, which had the lowest gun homicide rate (1.42 murders per 100,000 people). The states with the next highest firearm homicide rates were Mississippi (19.76), Louisiana (17.39), Alabama (12.90), New Mexico (10.87), South Carolina (10.75), Tennessee (10.24), and Illinois (10.20).
The number of suicides involving a gun exhibited a greater increase from 2020 to 2021 as compared to 2019 to 2020, when it increased by approximately 2 percent. Consistent with 2020, Wyoming (23.67), Montana (21.64), Alaska (19.38), and New Mexico (14.41) were among the states with the five highest gun suicide rates in 2021. Idaho (13.78), which was in the top five in 2020, was just edged out in 2021 by Oklahoma (13.82), likely due to the decrease in the gun suicide rate from 2020 to 2021 in the state. Similar to the rates of total gun deaths, Massachusetts (1.95), New Jersey (2.10), New York (2.21), Hawaii (2.91), and Rhode Island (3.29) ranked as the five states with the lowest rates of gun suicides.
…unlike the increase from 2019 to 2020, which was largely driven by gun-related homicides, the change from 2020 to 2021 was impacted by similar increases in both firearm homicides and suicides.
Regional Differences in Overall Gun Death Rates
In 2021, as with 2020, the Northeastern region of the United States saw comparatively lower rates of firearm-related homicides and suicides, as well as overall gun deaths, than the other three regions. This is consistent with a trend lasting more than 20 years, which has historically found the Northeast to have the lowest rates of firearm mortality and the Southern region to have the highest rates. Although the northeast did experience increases in these different forms of gun violence, the rise in firearm mortality rates remained comparatively lower.
Regional Changes in Gun Deaths and Firearm Mortality Rates, 2020-2021
|Gun Deaths||Firearm Mortality Rates|
|RGVRC Member States||3,923||4,175||6.4%||7.3||7.6||0.3|
Similarly, the seven states that participate in the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium also experienced a smaller increase in the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 citizens compared to both non-member states as well as the nation at large. The firearm mortality rate in member states was one-third the rate in non-member states in 2021, compared to being half as high in 2020. In addition to a less drastic increase in firearm mortality rates, these states also share in having some of the strongest and most comprehensive gun laws in the nation.
As telling as these numbers are, they fail to account for the full impact of firearm-related deaths. For every person killed by a gun, three to 10 others, known as co-victims, are left behind to grieve their loss. The effects of firearm violence ripple outwards, encompassing countless others as well as the communities in which these deaths occur. As such, responding to firearm violence with a focus on preventing the loss of life will have a widespread impact on many more people than these numbers convey and must be a priority for policymakers and the public alike.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jaclyn Schildkraut is the executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government