Gun violence is an ongoing public health crisis in the United States that impacts the health and wellbeing
of all of us. In 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. experienced an unprecedented spike in gun homicides. Many believed that this spike would be short-lived; levels of gun violence would subside as institutions effectively responded to the pandemic and people returned to their daily routines. This, unfortunately, was not the case.
In 2021, for the second straight year, gun deaths reached the highest number ever recorded. Nearly 49,000 people died from gun violence in the U.S. in 2021. Each day, an average of 134 people died from gun violence—one death every 11 minutes.
Gun homicides continued to rise in 2021, increasing 7.6% over the previous year. Gun suicides reached record levels, increasing 8.3%, the largest one-year increase recorded in over four decades. Guns, once again, were the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2021 accounting for more deaths than COVID-19, car crashes, or cancers.
Coincident with the rise in gun-related deaths were record gun sales. Millions of first-time purchasers, including Black and Hispanic/Latino people, and women of all races and ethnicities, bought guns during the pandemic at unprecedented levels. Many of these purchasers were motivated by gun industry marketing claims that guns make you safer. Yet, this is far from the truth; gun ownership greatly increases the risk of dying by suicide and homicide.
While it is too early to tell whether this surge in gun purchases contributed directly to the rise in gun violence the country is experiencing, we know that over the long run this influx of guns will only exacerbate the public health crisis of gun violence and worsen health disparities.
Fortunately, there are evidence-based, equitable solutions to prevent gun violence. These solutions are supported by most people, including gun owners. In spite of this wide support, many policymakers have been unwilling to follow the evidence and enact policies that will save lives.
Each year it is our mission to provide policymakers and the public accurate and up-to-date data on gun fatalities and illustrate the enormous toll gun violence has on our country. This report is an update of “A Year in Review: 2020 Gun Deaths in the U.S.” It uses 2021 firearm fatality data released by the CDC in January 2023.
We recognize that each data point discussed in this report is a person who died by gun violence. This loss has an immeasurable impact on families, friends, and communities; data can only partly illuminate the true burden of gun violence. In addition to analyzing the data, we must listen to and uplift the voices of those directly impacted by gun violence, their loved ones, and their communities.
Yet even on its own, the 2021 CDC data paints an alarming picture of the epidemic of gun violence. It illustrates how people from all walks of life are impacted. These deaths, and the associated pain and suffering, can be prevented. By leveraging the data outlined in this report, we can improve gun violence prevention strategies and create a more peaceful future, free from gun violence.