May 10, 2022 - Health

Firearm homicides hit highest level since 1994

Police officer at a crime scene

Photo: Dylan Bouscher/MediaNews Group/East Bay Times via Getty Images

The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. reached its highest level since 1994 during the first year of the COVID pandemic, with significant racial and class disparities, according to a CDC report published Tuesday.

Driving the news: 2020 saw a historic rise in homicides in the U.S., and the upward trend continued into 2021.

  • About 79% of homicides and 53% of suicides in the U.S. involved firearms in 2020, according to the CDC report.

The big picture: The nation's firearm homicide rate increased 34.6% from 2019 to 2020, with the largest increases occurring among Black men aged 10-44 years old and Native American or Alaska Native men aged 25-44 years old, per the new report.

  • "The firearm homicide rate among Black males aged 10–24 years was 20.6 times as high as the rate among white males of the same age in 2019, and this ratio increased to 21.6 in 2020," the report says.
  • Larger increases were also observed at higher poverty levels, with racial and ethnic minorities more likely to live in communities with high surrounding poverty.
  • Counties with the highest poverty levels in 2020 experienced firearm homicide and suicide rates that were 4.5 and 1.3 times as high, respectively, as counties with the lowest poverty levels.
  • While overall firearm suicide rates remained "relatively unchanged" from 2019 to 2020, increasing only slightly, the highest increases were observed among Native Americans or Alaska Natives "at the two highest poverty levels," the report noted.

What they're saying: The CDC noted that firearm homicides and suicides are a "persistent and significant" public health concern in the U.S.

  • During the pandemic, "longstanding systemic inequities and structural racism have resulted in limited economic, housing, and educational opportunities associated with inequities in risk for violence and other health conditions among various racial and ethnic groups," the report stated.

The bottom line: The study's findings "underscore the importance of comprehensive strategies that can stop violence" by addressing underlying factors that contribute to homicide and suicide rates, including economic and social inequalities that drive racial disparities in health outcomes, per the report.

  • These could include policies that improve economic and household stability — such as child care subsidies and housing assistance — and community outreach programs.
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