The annual report on the public health crisis that is guns was released by researchers at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. The report updates the organization’s 2020 report with additional 2021 data from the CDC, which shows that during the pandemic, gun-related death rates in the United States reached record highs for two years in a row. Even during the deadliest year of the pandemic (2021), gun-related deaths outpaced COVID-19, automobile accidents, and cancer as the leading cause of death among children and teens.
According to the study, gun homicide rates increased 7.6% over the previous year, while gun suicide rates increased by 8.3%—the “largest one-year increase recorded in over four decades.” The correlation (and speculative connection) to record increases in gun sales is hard not to see, and those correlations are made more clear when considering the communities seeing the biggest increases in gun sales are also the communities seeing the record increases in gun-related deaths.
According to the research, 48,830 people died as a result of guns in 2021. This marked an increase of more than 3,600 deaths compared to 2020, which held the previous “record high.” Ari Davis, a co-author of the study, tells NPR, “Guns are driving this increase.”
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Also worth noting in the study was that between 2019 and 2021, gun homicides increased by 45% and gun suicides increased by 10%. As for the latter, while suicide rates overall increased during that time, non-gun suicide rates decreased by 8%. This means guns drove the increases in suicide deaths.
Again, the problem with guns is guns. The lethality of the gun is its foremost characteristic. This is why there were 20,958 homicides by a firearm recorded in 2021, and 1,895 homicides by “cut/pierce.” There are lots of cutting and piercing devices in most Americans’ homes, but their primary job isn’t to kill things. That’s also why more than half of suicide deaths were the result of a firearm.
Some of the biggest increases in gun ownership over the past few years have been in communities of color. Not surprisingly, the biggest increases in gun-related homicides have disproportionately touched those communities as well:
From 2019 to 2021, the gun homicide rate increased by 49% for African Americans and 44% for Hispanics/Latinos. That figure rose by 55% among American Indians/Alaska Natives.
But there is good news available in this study for anyone willing to use even a speck of brainpower: Gun violence prevention laws work. In fact, someone living in Mississippi is 10 times more likely to die by gun violence than someone living in Massachusetts. According to EveryTown, a gun violence prevention organization, Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws, whereas Mississippi is ranked at the bottom. And for good reason:
Mississippi has the weakest gun laws in the country. The state has none of the foundational gun laws in place, and only three policies total—having most recently repealed the requirement to get a permit before carrying a concealed handgun in public. It also has the single worst rate of gun deaths, and has the highest rate of gun homicides in the country.
Mississippi is also among the top 10 states in household firearm ownership—and yet the state has no law requiring secure storage and it forces higher education institutions and K–12 schools to allow guns on their campuses.
It is important to recognize that gun violence prevention laws do not include banning backpacks in elementary schools. They also do not include telling people, “We’re not gonna fix it,” when your job as a legislator is to create laws that will “fix” things. The right-wing, Second Amendment-fetishist Republicans in our country have spent the better part of the past three years attacking LGBTQ+ communities nationwide, claiming that they are protecting children from the dangers of “groomers.” Meanwhile:
Homicides are the most common type of gun death among children and teens; 64% of child and teen gun deaths were homicides and 30% were suicides.
While teenagers account for the majority of these deaths, younger children are not immune. A total of 434 children ages 0–12 were killed by guns in 2021.
Toddlers and young children are also impacted by gun violence; 153 children ages 0–4 died by gun violence in 2021 (87 gun homicides and 54 unintentional gun injuries).
Black children and teens face alarmingly high rates of gun violence. More than half (51%) of all Black teens (15–19) who died in 2021 were killed by a gun.
Gun violence remains the leading cause of death for young adults under the age of 25.
If you want to protect children, it’s very simple: Protect them first from what harms them most. Gun prevention laws continue to prove that even without getting rid of guns (which is what needs to be done), we can, at the very least, mitigate the public health crisis lax gun laws perpetuate.
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