Gun violence is a burning issue in the United States. Thousands are killed or injured every year from the misuse of firearms. The devastating impact of gun violence on families and communities has left the country in serious peril.
Gun violence takes many forms and affects individuals of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The debate on gun control continues, with calls for stricter laws, but numbers continue to rise.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at gun violence statistics in the United States, including its prevalence and impact. We’ll examine trends in gun violence, the types of gun violence that occur, how gun violence in the US compares to the rest of the world, and more.
Let’s get started by looking at a few key statistics.
Key Gun Violence Statistics
- In 2020 alone, 45,222 people died from firearms-related injuries.
- 43% of gun deaths are homicides, and 54% are suicides.
- Gun violence rose 32% from 2001 to 2020.
- The deadliest five years on record for gun violence were from 2016 to 2020.
- The states with the highest rates of gun violence are Mississippi (28.6), Louisiana (26.3), Wyoming (25.9), Missouri (23.9), and Alabama (23.6).
- The states with the lowest rates of gun violence are New York (5.3), Rhode Island (5.1), New Jersey (5.0), Massachusetts (3.7), and Hawaii (3.4).
- Almost 500 people die each year from unintentional firearm injuries.
- Americans are significantly more at risk for gun violence than people in other high-income countries.
- Guns killed 4,357 children in 2020.
- Gun violence costs the US approximately $557 billion each year.
How many people die from gun violence in the U.S. each year?
According to the CDC, in 2020 (the most recent year for which data is available), 45,222 people died from firearms-related injuries. To save you doing some math, that’s approximately 124 people each day.
Those numbers include not just murders and suicides, but also firearm-related accidents, deaths by law enforcement, and those with undetermined circumstances.
However, it does not include deaths in which firearms-related injuries played a secondary role in the death, as the data is based on death certificates, which only list a single primary cause of death.
So, for example, if a victim of an assault was shot, then the assailant asphyxiated the victim before the shot was fatal; this would not count towards these numbers even if the gunshot would have been fatal.
Gun Violence Trends in The US
Now, let’s take a look at those numbers over time.
To start, the overall gun death rate has been rising steadily over the past couple of decades. In fact, it rose 32% from 2001 to 2020, from a total firearm death rate of 10.31 per 100,000 people to 13.62 per 100,000 people.
In fact, in terms of gun violence, the deadliest five years on record were from 2016 to 2020, with spikes in both gun homicides and gun suicides. We’ll break down the trends in different types of gun killings later on in more detail.
Using the same data from the CDC for 2020, we can see the breakdown of the different types of gun violence in the US that year. The data shows that 43% of gun deaths, or 19,384 deaths, in the US were murders. That number includes 2,811 children and teens.
To give you an idea of how that fits into murders as a whole, 79% of the total number of murders in the US in 2020 (19,384 out of a total of 24,576) involved a firearm.
85% of firearm homicides in 2020 had male victims, with black men aged 15-34 being especially at risk. This demographic makes up just 2% of the total US population, but makes up 38% of firearm homicide deaths. The firearm homicide rate for black men in this age group was over 21 times greater than that of white men in the same age group.
While women are significantly less likely to be the victims of firearm homicide, Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native women do stand out as significantly more likely to experience firearm homicide than their counterparts of other races.
In 2020, 54% of firearms deaths, or 24,292 deaths, in the US were suicides, including 1,293 children and teens. That’s 53% of the total number of suicides that year.
The overwhelming majority, 87%, of victims of firearm suicide are male, and men are almost seven times more likely than women to die from suicide by firearm.
White men over 45 years of age are especially at risk. This demographic accounts for just 14% of the total US population but makes up about 45% of firearm suicide deaths. American Indian/Native Alaskan men are also at increased risk.
Gun Violence Deaths By State
Now, let’s break down these numbers a bit more, looking at it on a state-by-state basis.
First, let’s look at the total number of deaths:
We put that in order from greatest to fewest deaths, so you might have noticed that the states with higher deaths tend to state with higher populations, and the opposite is true for states with lower populations. That just makes sense, so now let’s look by death rate to get a better comparison:
Now that we’ve examined the population, we can look at other things that correlate with gun violence.
According to research on the topic, one particular factor stands out: the more guns in a state, the more gun violence. That’s true across homicides, suicides, and accidents, and it just makes sense. Fewer guns mean fewer opportunities for people to use them to (accidentally or on purpose) hurt themselves or others.
Highest & Lowest Gun Deaths By State
Let’s recap that data.
The highest and lowest five states for the number of gun deaths are:
For these numbers, population (and population density) seems to be a huge indicator of how many overall gun deaths.
Looking at gun death rates, the five states with the highest and lowest death rates are:
These numbers are largely explained by the general presence of firearms.
Gun Violence Types & Numbers
We already looked at the different types of gun violence and the rates for each, but let’s take a closer look.
Data from the CDC shows that suicides are, by a significant margin, the most common type of firearm death. In 2020, they accounted for 54% of gun-related deaths, or a total of 24,292 deaths. 53% of all suicides in 2020 involved firearms.
From 2001 to 2020, we saw low but consistent growth in the number of suicides. The lowest point for firearm suicides since 2001 was 2006 (5.55 per 100,000 people), but the rate has been steadily increasing almost every year since then, rising 25% from 2006 to 2020, up to 6.95 firearm suicide deaths per 100,000 people.
The same CDC data shows that homicides are the next most common type of firearm death at 43% of gun deaths. 79% of the total number of murders in 2020 in the US involved a firearm.
Homicides remained fairly steady from 2001 (3.93 per 100,000 people) through 2014 (3.53 per 100,000).
Then, in 2015 the rate of firearm homicide began dramatically increasing, with a firearm homicide rate of 4.17 per 100,000. That trend continued into 2016 with a rate of 4.63 per 100,000, representing a 31% increase over the two years. They then leveled off but spiked again in 2020 to 6.19 deaths per 100,000 people, increasing by 35% in just that year. All in all, we see a total increase of 75% in firearm homicides just from 2014 to 2020.
While police shootings make up a significantly smaller proportion of the overall number of gun deaths, in the United States, law enforcement officers shoot and kill roughly 1,000 people each year, according to The Washington Post. 2022 was the highest number on record for police shootings, with 1,096 shootings by law enforcement.
Unintentional & Undetermined Shootings
Almost 500 people die annually from unintentional firearm injuries. That accounts for less than 2% of gun deaths, but roughly 37% of nonfatal firearm injuries. Approximately half of these deaths are the result of another person firing a gun.
However, the data is hard to verify, as it can be hard to determine the circumstances of both non-fatal injuries and fatalities accurately. Witnesses may be untruthful to protect themselves from law enforcement or retaliation, and when someone fatally shoots themselves while alone, there are no living witnesses at all.
Where Does the USA Stand in Comparison With Other Countries?
Americans are significantly more at risk for gun violence than people who live in other high-income countries.
For example, the overall gun death rate in the US in 2016 was 10.6 per 100,000 people. In contrast, Canada had a gun death rate of 2.1 per 100,000, Germany had a gun death of 0.9 per 100,000, and Australia had a gun death rate of 1.0 per 100,000.
Furthermore, people in the US are four times as likely to die from unintentional gun injuries than people in other high-income countries.
Gun Violence Statistics By Demographic
The victims of gun violence are overwhelmingly male at 86%.
For gun homicide specifically, men make up 85% of victims. Young (15-34) black men in particular are at risk for gun homicide, making up 38% of fatalities despite being only 2% of the US population. That’s 21 times higher than white men of the same age range.
Among women, Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native people are at the highest risk for firearm homicide. When women die from gun homicide, it is most often the result of intimate partner violence.
87% of victims of firearm suicides are men, making men times 7 times more likely to die from firearm suicide than women. White men over 45 years of age are especially at risk, making up 45% of deaths from firearm suicide despite making up only 14% of the population. American Indian/Alaskan Native men are also at high risk.
Among women, white women are most at risk for firearm suicide between 45 and 54 years old, which stands out from other racial and ethnic demographics, where firearm suicides are highest between 25 and 34 years of age.
People in the southeastern United States such as Mississippi and Louisiana are also disproportionately affected by gun violence.
Guns Are the Leading Cause of Death for Children under 18
2,811 children and teens were victims of firearm homicide in 2020. Another 1,293 children and teens used firearms for suicide in the same year. In total, guns killed 4,357 children in 2020.
In fact, guns are the leading cause of death for children under 18, with 5.6 per 100,000 children dying due to gun violence in 2020. The US has also seen a significant increase in child deaths by firearms, with a 42% increase from 2001 to 2020.
In contrast, on average, other developed countries have a 0.3 rate of childhood firearm mortality. The US’s next closest peer country, Canada, has a 0.8 childhood firearm mortality rate.
Black Men Face the Highest Risk of Police Violence
White, non-Hispanic Americans account for approximately half of all police shootings (3,622 killings since 2015). However, when you look at the number of police shootings compared to the proportion of the US population, it becomes apparent that Black Americans are at especially high risk of police shootings. There are 5.9 killings of Black Americans by police per million per year, compared to 2.3 killings of White Americans per million per year.
According to an NPR investigation, at least 135 unarmed Black Americans were shot by police between 2015 and 2021. The officers involved were white in 75% of the cases. At least 15 officers were involved in multiple shootings, which is unexpected since most officers aren’t involved in shootings at any point in their careers.
In the majority of shootings of Black Americans by law enforcement, the victim is male, though Black women are still disproportionately likely to be shot by law enforcement compared to women of other races.
Correlation Between Gun Violence & Gun Ownership in the U.S.
Naturally, firearm owners experience unintentional firearm deaths at much higher rates than non-firearm owners. Not having a gun simply makes for less opportunity.
Among firearm owners, safe firearm storage is strongly associated with the likelihood of unintentional firearm death. A gun that’s not stored safely is much more likely to be used in an unintentional firearm death than one that’s stored safely.
In addition, almost half of all women killed in the US are killed by a (former or current) intimate partner, and more than half of those killers use guns. In cases where abusers have access to a firearm, women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser.
Mass Shootings Stats & Trends In the US
There isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition of mass shootings, which makes tracking them—and especially tracking them over time—difficult.
The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as “four or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.” According to their database and definition, 513 people died in mass shootings in 2020.
The FBI doesn’t measure mass shootings. However, they do track active shooter incidents, which they define as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
There were 61 such incidents in 2021, representing a dramatic increase compared to previous years. In 2020, there were 40 active shooter incidents. 2018 and 2019 both had 30, and 2017 had 31. That’s a 96.8% increase in active shooter incidents from 2017 to 2021.
Types of Firearms are Most Commonly Used in Gun Violence in the U.S.
According to data from the FBI, handguns are the type of firearm most commonly used in gun murders and they were involved in at least 59% of gun murders in 2020. Rifles, in contrast, were used in at least 3% of gun murders. The remaining 36% either used different types of firearms or the type of firearm used was not specified.
However, it’s important to note that the data that the FBI uses is voluntarily submitted by police departments, so it’s not a comprehensive look at all gun violence or even just gun murders. Some agencies elect not to submit data or don’t participate every year.
How Much Does Gun Violence Cost the US?
According to a 2022 study by Zirui Song, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, gun violence costs the US approximately $557 billion each year.
Every nonfatal gun injury costs roughly $30,000 in healthcare per survivor for just the first year after the injury, more than four times the average annual number. Those who suffer from firearm injuries are still paying more after that first year though: people who survive firearm injuries are more likely to suffer from pain disorders, psychiatric disorders, and substance use disorders, all of which have their own costs for management and treatment.
At the same time, private employers across the United States face a cost of $535 million per year in loss of revenue and productivity due to firearm injuries.
Of course, one can’t put a dollar value on the loss of life due to gun violence.