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Report shows US gun deaths reached record levels during COVID pandemic

A new report indicates that a spike in firearm fatalities coincided with record gun sales in 2020 and 2021.
Report shows US gun deaths reached record levels during COVID pandemic
Posted at 12:26 PM, Jun 07, 2023

A record 48,830 lives were lost in 2021 from firearms, marking the second straight year the U.S. set a record, Johns Hopkins  Center for Violence Solutions said in a report this week. 

The 48,830 firearm fatalities were an increase of 3,608 from 2020, the previous record. More than half of those killed by firearms were from suicides, the report indicates. Johns Hopkins’ data shows the firearm suicide rate increased by 8.3% in 2021, marking the highest one-year increase in four decades.

In addition to a spike in suicides, there was also an increase in firearm homicides. The report says that 9,500 fewer people would have been killed in 2021 if the firearm homicide rate per 100,000 stayed consistent with 2014 levels. 

"Our country is breaking records for all the wrong reasons — record gun sales combined with increasingly permissive gun laws are making gun violence a pervasive part of life in our country, leading to a sharp increase in gun deaths," says Ari Davis, the report’s lead author. "Perhaps most troubling is these spikes in homicides and suicides are almost entirely connected to guns." 

The increase in gun deaths comes as gun sales spiked during the pandemic. According to federal data, there were over 39 million gun background checks performed in 2020, which marked a 35% increase from the previous record set a year earlier. 

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Gun sales appeared to remain strong in 2021 with 38 million background checks being performed. The increased gun sales appeared to spike during the unrest following George Floyd's death and continued into the first few months of the Biden administration.

The report indicated that gun-related deaths appeared to be higher in states with weaker gun laws and high gun ownership rates. The report said that a person in Mississippi was 10 times more likely to die from gun violence than a person in Massachusetts.

Johns Hopkins’ report indicated that Black people were 14 times more likely to be fatally shot than White people. The report also noted that firearm fatalities accounted for 51% of all deaths involving Black teens ages 15-19.

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The authors of the report suggested the following policies: 

- Implementing permit-to-purchase laws, also known as gun purchaser licensing.

- Using Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Extreme Risk Protection Orders — sometimes called "red flag" laws — to temporarily remove firearms from individuals determined to be at elevated risk for violence.

- Investing in community violence intervention programs.

- Adopting child access prevention laws mandating safe firearm storage in households with children and/or teens.

- Enacting stronger concealed carry permitting laws; and repealing “stand-your-ground” laws.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 21 mostly Democratic-led states have implemented red flag laws. Meanwhile, the group says 29 mostly Republican-led states have stand-your-ground laws.

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