The end of the year can be particularly grim on the gun violence beat, as national death tolls and mass shooting counts are finalized, and communities across the country remember those who have been lost. Hard-won research shows more people than ever are being affected by gun violence and that, since 2020 especially, children are among the most vulnerable

Throughout 2023, our team repeatedly confronted that darkness, as we covered the history of the American gun industry, the intersection of firearms and domestic violence, and the gun suicide crisis — which has reached record highs. 

But our reporting over the past year also illuminated some auspicious, if complex, developments in public health, community strategy, business, policy, and personal survival, as in our Chicago Storytelling Network. This reporting, in other words, sometimes stops us in our tracks, but it also motivates us to look forward.

Here are our best stories of the year.

Selin Thomas, digital editor

The Business of Guns

One of America’s Favorite Handguns Is Allegedly Firing On Its Owners

SIG Sauer’s P320 pistol has wounded more than 80 people who say they didn’t pull the trigger — and no U.S. agency has the power to intervene.

The Gun Machine: A Culture of Fear Sells Guns in the U.S. This Is How We Got Here.

In Episode Two of our new podcast, “The Gun Machine,” Alain Stephens explores the history of gun ownership in America — including the racist roots of the Second Amendment — and talks to Black gun owners about why they carry.

Shoot, Don’t Kill 

Weapons-maker Byrna is touting “less lethal” guns for self-defense. Can the company find a market in a country dominated by gun lovers and gun haters?

The Gun Industry Has a Suicide Problem

White men like Bob Owens are the firearms industry’s most essential customers. But they keep turning their weapons on themselves.

The Politics of Guns

How Minnesota Became the Surprising Success Story of Gun Reform

After a sweeping electoral victory, state Democrats seized “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to reimagine gun violence prevention.

Illinois is the eighth state to pass a law requiring gun companies to impose “reasonable controls” on their marketing and distribution practices. All of them took inspiration from the same New York bill.

Scott Heins/Getty Images

This is What the NRA Looks Like in Decline

The group is slowly abandoning its original mission to teach Americans how to handle guns. Spending on these programs has dropped 77 percent in less than a decade.

The Toll on Our Communities

Studying Gun Violence Is Hard. But Intervention Programs Need Research to Survive.

Critics say there isn’t enough traditional academic evidence to justify government investment in community violence interruption. But the programs are varied and neighborhoods aren’t laboratories, complicating ordinary evaluation.

A Stray Bullet Struck Her Sister. Now, Her Violence Prevention Work Includes the Man Who Fired the Gun. 

The day Shneaqua Purvis lost her sister changed the direction of her life.

In Indianapolis, Drugs and Guns Converge But Solutions Remain Disjointed

One year after a landmark study connecting drug abuse to gun violence, the city’s community activists say a fragmented response is trapping neighborhoods in a dangerous cycle.

Ask the Trace

How Many Guns Are Circulating in the U.S.?

We attempt to pin down a central — yet elusive — data point in the conversation around gun violence.

Offering cash for guns can be a quick way to get some firearms off the streets. Readers question whether the programs actually reduce violence.

How Often Are AR-Style Rifles Used for Self-Defense?

Supporters of AR-15s, often used in mass shootings and racist attacks, say they’re important for self-defense. Our analysis of Gun Violence Archive data suggests otherwise.

A group of three people point to an AR-15-style rifle hanging on a wall
Lindsey Wasson/AP

Chicago Bureau

Survivors of Gun Violence Find Solace in Glassblowing

N’Kosi Barber lost a friend in a shooting. Now, he’s helping Chicagoans who have endured similar losses move on through the craft of glassblowing.

Akilah Townsend for The Trace

Chicago Youth Programs Often End With the Summer. Young People Want More.

Organizers ramp up youth programming in the summer when gun violence is at its peak. Participants are seeking long-term solutions.

Chicago Shooting Survivors, in Their Own Words

We spent a year helping people who have experienced gun violence tell their stories. This collection is the result.

Philly Bureau

Hope and Disenchantment as Police Flood Philly’s Most Violent Areas

In neighborhoods that account for 43 percent of Philadelphia’s shootings, residents are wary, with some only leaving their homes for essentials.

A photograph with two Black men in the foreground and another in the background, wearing having a white kufi hat and having a conversation with a fourth man
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Trace

These Philadelphia Researchers Want Journalists to Tell Better Stories About Gun Violence

A trauma surgeon’s study aims to convince more reporters to consider victims’ well-being when covering crime.

A False Account of a Controversial Killing Takes Philly Police ‘a Hundred Steps Back’ 

Philly’s strategy for solving violent crime relies on the public’s trust. The police killing of Eddie Irizarry, 27, threatens to strain that trust even more.

By the Numbers

A Decade of Mass Shootings, by the Numbers

As the United States faces a record number of mass shootings, data from the Gun Violence Archive suggests that multiple-casualty incidents are accelerating.

How 30 Years of Federal Background Checks Changed Gun Buying, by the Numbers

To mark the anniversary of the 1993 Brady Bill, The Trace charted the evolving landscape of gun purchasing and gun violence.

Doug Mills/AP File

Dangerous Homes: Guns and Domestic Violence Exact a Deadly Toll on Kids

Most parents worry a shooting could happen at their children’s school. But a Trace analysis found that three times as many kids were shot in domestic violence incidents between 2018 and 2022.