Gun deaths fell slightly in the United States in 2022, with homicides leading the decrease, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures suggest that while overall deaths have declined, they remain significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
A total of 48,117 people died of gunshot wounds last year, according to the CDC data, the second highest single-year tally on record. That’s a 1.5 percent decrease from 2021, when 48,830 people died of gunshot wounds.
The data comes from the CDC’s WONDER database, which collects mortality information from death certificates at the state level. The estimates are provisional, and are likely to change slightly before final figures are released in December. While the data is not yet final, it provides the most comprehensive and accurate accounting of gun deaths in America.
Firearm injury was the 12th- leading cause of death in the country in 2022, eclipsing car crashes for the sixth year in a row. The gap between the two widened even further last year as motor vehicle deaths fell year-over-year. The age-adjusted gun death rate in 2022 was 14.4 per 100,000 people, a slight decline from 2021, which recorded the highest rate since 1993.
Suicides accounted for the largest share of gun deaths in 2022. According to the data, 26,993 people died by gun suicide last year, accounting for 56 percent of all gun deaths. That’s a 2.5 percent jump from 2021.
A total of 19,592 people died by gun homicide in 2022, accounting for 41 percent of gun deaths. That amounts to a 6.5 percent drop from the previous year. That decrease could continue into 2023, preliminary evidence suggests. Crime statistician Jeff Asher reported in June that murder was down around 11 percent in 100 cities in the first half of the year.
“We might well see a welcome decrease as the social and political instability of the pandemic years recedes,” said Garen Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.
Until 2020, the U.S. had never recorded more than 40,000 gun deaths in a single year. But gun deaths jumped 14 percent between 2019 and 2020, the highest year-over-year rise on record, soaring past 45,000. The spike was driven by homicides, which rose 35 percent.
As in years past, people of color bore the brunt of gun homicide in 2022, while white people were disproportionately affected by gun suicide. More than a third of gun homicide victims last year were Black males between the ages of 15 and 34, a group that accounts for only 4 percent of the population. Meanwhile, white males between the ages of 55 and 74 accounted for nearly a quarter of gun suicide victims in 2022, more than any other group. But gun suicides rose 4 percent between 2021 and 2022 among Black people, a group that doesn’t typically have high gun suicide rates.
Charles Branas, the chair of epidemiology at Columbia University’s School of Public Health who has researched gun violence disparities in urban and rural areas, said that a rise in gun suicide is keeping gun deaths high.
“I am hopeful” that gun deaths will eventually fall to pre-pandemic levels, he said, but “the kinds of things that drive up gun suicide are not getting better,” chiefly the surge in gun sales and production. “And I know those are legal sales, but legal ownership is something that’s been correlated very closely to gun suicide,” he said.
Gun death rates in 2022 varied considerably between regions and states. The South, which has high gun ownership and permissive gun laws, had the highest number of gun deaths (22,796), with Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, and Montana recording the highest gun death rates. The Northeast, which has strong gun access laws and relatively low gun ownership, had the lowest number of gun deaths (4,422), with Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York recording the lowest gun death rates.
Wintemute of U.C. Davis said widespread gun ownership and easy access to firearms “remains a major determinant of firearm mortality,” while strong gun access laws are associated with low gun death rates.