Rates of gun-related homicides and suicides both jumped by over 8% in 2021, and to levels not seen in 30 years, according to CDC data.

From 2020 to 2021, homicides involving firearms increased from 6.12 to 6.63 per 100,000, while gun-related suicides increased from 8.07 to 8.75 per 100,000, reported Thomas Simon, PhD, of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and colleagues, writing in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

What’s so concerning about these findings, said Simon, is that they follow on the back of an already “unprecedented” 35% increase in firearm homicides from 2019 to 2020.

“We rarely see a jump up as high,” he said. “Instead of going down or staying flat, it’s really troubling to see the firearm homicide rate continue to increase.”

In total, the number of firearm-related homicides in people age 10 years and up rose from 19,383 in 2020 to 20,966 in 2021, an 8.3% increase, while the number of firearm-related suicides jumped from 24,292 to 26,320, also an 8.3% increase — Simon said it was “unusual” to see the same percentage for both outcomes, and that he and his co-authors “double-checked” their work.

The highest firearm-related homicide rates were found among adults ages 25-44, with rates increasing across every racial and ethnic group.

Non-Hispanic Black individuals ages 10-24 had the highest firearm-related homicide rate in 2020, which increased further in 2021, Simon said; the rate was nearly 25 times as high as among non-Hispanic white people in this age group, which declined in 2021.

Firearm Suicides

With regard to the increase in firearm suicides, Simon noted a “different pattern” in the demographics by age.

The highest firearm suicide rates for persons under 45 years of age were seen in American Indian or Alaska Native individuals, whereas the highest rates for those 45 years and older were seen in white adults.

While it’s not clear what’s driving the increased firearm death rates, the pandemic and pandemic-related changes — disruptions to services, mental stressors, economic stressors, social isolation, and housing instability — are one possible explanation, he said.

There’s indications that these changes may have impacted racial and ethnic minority communities to a greater extent, said Simon.

With regard to prevention, Simon said it’s important to look for ways to address the needs of those who are at greatest risk for experiencing violence. Outreach programs can help by “changing norms” around violence and hospital based-approaches, such as those shared by the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, have also shown promise.

A young person who has been brought to an emergency room for a non-fatal injury, is at risk for later injuries, Simon said. But that “moment of reflection” can provide an opportunity for clinicians to intervene and connect the individual and his or her family with community-based services, from employment training to counseling to economic supports.

“One thing we can tell for sure is that the disparities have been widened,” said Greg Rhee, PhD, an assistant professor of Public Health Science for UConn Health in Farmington, Connecticut, who was not involved in the study.

“We need to provide better access to healthcare,” and to put more efforts into prevention efforts for ethnic and racial minority groups to reduce these gaps and the overall homicide and suicide rates in the country, added Rhee.

Methodology

To estimate increases in firearm homicide and suicide deaths, Simon and his colleagues compared final 2020 and provisional 2021 mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System and leveraged Census Bureau estimates to study all-cause homicide and suicide rates.


In 2021, gun-related homicides made up 80.7% of total homicides, with 17,604 among males and 3,362 among females. Gun-related suicides comprised 54.8% of all suicides, including 22,390 in males and 3,390 in females.


One limitation of the study is that the data are provisional, though Simon said he doesn’t expect the numbers to drop. “They may go up slightly,” he said.

Another limitation, noted Rhee, is that the study doesn’t explain the reasons why homicide and suicide rates have increased.

“As researchers, we need to answer these questions to solve this problem,” he said. “Answering this question … will allow us to do a better job in terms of the prevention efforts.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

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    Shannon Firth has been reporting on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

Disclosures

No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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