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Firearms-Related Deaths Spike Higher

A new report from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health paints a bleak picture about gun violence trends. The 45,222 gun deaths in 2020 are the most ever recorded in the United States, and they represent a staggering 35 percent increase from 2019.

A Year in Review: 2020 Gun Deaths in the U.S. examines a dataset released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in December. The dataset covers 2020 and is the most recent death certificate data available from the agency.

The study also highlighted trends in U.S. firearm death rates, measured by dividing firearm-related deaths divided by the population. After reaching an apex in the early 1990s, the rate declined, sharply at first and then more evenly, until the mid-2010s. It has risen since then, with the jump from 2019 to 2020 representing the steepest trendline in the past 40 years.

Though the recent increase has been caused more by homicides than other forms of firearms-related deaths, using firearms to die by suicide remains depressingly frequent. Suicide represented 54 percent of the total firearm-related deaths in 2020.

Other trends in the data include the following:

  • The death rate among children and teens under age 19 increased by 30 percent to 4,357, and firearm incidents are the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 19. Of those, 64 percent were homicides, and 30 percent were suicides (the rest falling in the “other” category).
  • Nearly 80 percent of all homicides involved a firearm—19,384 in all, compared to the next most numerous method of cutting or piercing, which totaled 2,063.
  • Firearm-related deaths increased in both rural and urban areas.
  • Black women experienced the most alarming increase: the rate for firearm-related homicides in this demographic increased 47 percent from 2019 to 2020.
  • The Hopkins study noted that states with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun violence. As an example, “Someone living in Mississippi was 8.5 times more likely to die by gun violence than someone living in Hawaii.”

The report made three policy recommendations, which it said are not only supported by the general public, but also are supported by gun owners and Republicans:

  1. States should implement firearm purchaser licensing (also known as permit-to-purchase) that requires prospective gun purchasers to obtain a license prior to buying a gun.
  2. States should enact and implement firearm removal laws—Domestic Violence Orders (DVPOs) and Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs).
  3. Cities should prioritize funding for Homicide Review Commissions (HRC) and community violence intervention (CVI).

The last recommendation involves significant input from community vectors, and since employers are an important part of communities, the recommendation likely has the most relevance for security professionals. The following is how the report describes HRCs and CVIS.

Homicide Review Commissions (HRC) are a public health and public safety partnership that seek to analyze patterns and trends in gun violence, gather community input, and generate recommendations for action. An HRC is comprised of three committees: a criminal justice review, a community-based review, and an executive committee review. The HRC is led by a public health researcher who serves as a neutral convener to review data, synthesize findings, and generate recommendations. Prior research of Milwaukee’s HRC found a 50 percent decline in homicide in the intervention districts compared to control districts.

Community violence interventions (CVI) are promising programs that aim to identify and support the small number of people at risk for violence by helping them peacefully resolve conflicts and providing them with wraparound mental health and social support. CVI is most effective when cities first establish an inter-agency process, like a Homicide Review Commission, to identify the drivers of violence within a city and deploy resources comprehensively to address these drivers of violence. Promising CVI initiatives that can help reduce violence include: violence interruption programs, group violence intervention strategies, violence reduction through blight remediation, hospital-based violence intervention programs, programs that use cognitive behavioral therapy, and programs that provide life coaching and case management to those at risk for violence.

For more on gun violence-related issues, see these Security Management resources: