The number of gun deaths in America hit an all-time high in 2020, owing mostly to an increase in homicides, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total of 45,222 people died of gunshot wounds — a 14 percent jump from 2019, when there were 39,707 gun deaths, and the largest year-over-year rise on record.

The data, published late last month on the CDC’s interactive WONDER database, demonstrates that the pace of gun violence in the United States is accelerating quickly. Firearm injury is now the 13th leading cause of death, eclipsing car crashes for the fourth year in a row, and by a larger margin than ever before. CDC mortality data is derived from death certificates collected at the state level.

Olga Pierce

The age-adjusted gun death rate in 2020 was 13.6 per 100,000 people — the highest since 1994. 

The steep increase in gun deaths was driven largely by homicides, which spiked 35 percent between 2019 and 2020. Guns were used in a greater proportion of homicides than ever before: 79 percent, up from 74 percent in 2019. 

Suicides, meanwhile, remained relatively steady. Over the last decade, suicides have accounted for more than 60 percent of gun deaths, but made up only 54 percent of gun deaths in 2020.

As in years past, people of color bore the brunt of American gun violence: 42 percent of firearm homicide victims in 2020 were Black males between the ages of 15 and 34, a group that accounts for only 2 percent of the population. Gun homicides of Black women jumped 51 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. 

The South had far and away the highest number of gun deaths (21,552) in 2020, and the Northeast had the lowest number of gun deaths (4,145). The states with the highest rates of gun mortality were Mississippi, Louisiana, and Wyoming, while Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Jersey had the lowest rates. Washington, D.C., Mississippi, and Louisiana had the highest rates of gun homicide; Wyoming, North Dakota, and Maine had the lowest.