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2020 Was the Worst Year in US History for Gun Violence

2020 will be remembered for many things: a global pandemic, a shutdown of the economy, racial justice protests and the presidential election.

2020 should also be remembered as the worst year in history for US gun violence. America set new records for gun violence in 2020 by virtually every measure: gun homicides, shootings, injuries, children and teens killed or injured by guns, mass shootings and unintentional shootings. The only significant gun violence metric that did not establish a new record in 2020 was gun suicides, which recorded the 2nd highest number in history, slightly lower than 2018.

It is no coincidence that gun sales also established a new record in 2020, with almost 23M guns sold, 64% higher than 2019. There are now 384M guns in circulation in America, compared to 331M residents, more than one gun per person. This is by far the highest number of guns per capita of any industrialized country in the world. Canada is second with about 1/3 as many guns per capita as the US. It's no wonder America has the highest level of gun violence of all industrialized countries by a wide margin.

The most significant events of 2020, the ones that changed our lives and dominated the news, led directly to increased gun sales and increased gun violence.

2020 Gun Violence in Review

As we entered 2020, we were coming off a year of 2019 where many gun violence stats had ticked down from prior highs. In spite of a general increasing trend of gun violence over the last 5-6 years, 2019 saw slight declines in gun homicides, gun suicides and teens and children killed or injured by gun violence. Mass shootings and gun injuries overall set new records in 2019, but it appeared that most gun violence stats may have peaked in 2017 and 2018. Even guns sold in 2019 was down compared to record numbers in 2016 and 2013. Could gun violence begin a downward trend? It was not to be.

COVID-19 arrived in the US in late January, spread further in February and by early March 2020, the country was shutting down to prevent widespread contagion. Fear of this new disease gripped much of the country and people began a long period of isolation. Businesses shut down, many companies sent their employees home to work remotely, and people began to stock up on food and essential supplies. One of these essential supplies was guns, which in March 2020 set a new record for monthly gun sales: 2.5M guns were sold in March 2020. This is higher than the previous record of 2.4M guns sold in December 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting, and the 2.4M guns sold in December 2015 after the San Bernardino shooting and subsequent calls for better gun legislation.

Total Gun Sales

Gun sales are highly cyclical, with the highest gun sales occurring in the fall leading up to Christmas, and in the spring. As you can see from the graph below, 2020 shattered this pattern with extremely high gun sales occurring in typically slow gun sales months.

Gun sales stayed high and set monthly records for April and May 2020. Then on May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. This set off very large protests around the country in support of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. Some of these protests turned violent and spurred anti-protestors who clashed with BLM protesters. It seemed the country was in turmoil and gun sales again spiked to record levels in June 2020 when 2.4M guns were sold. Gun sales stayed elevated from July through November 2020, setting monthly records for each of those months by a wide margin.

Overall, 22.8M guns were purchased in 2020, a new record that shattered previous gun sales totals by a wide margin. With more guns in circulation than ever before, increased gun violence was a very real possibility. And that’s exactly what happened in 2020.

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There are many reasons for the increased gun violence of 2020, some of which are discussed in this article Gun Violence Spikes in NYC, Intensifying Debate Over Policing, from the New York Times. They include the strain from the pandemic, social unrest, a hot summer, policing actions and the releasing of thousands of prisoners from jail to stem spread of the virus. There is little doubt that a record number of guns being held by Americans was a contributing factor to the record gun violence of 2020.

Gun Homicides

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Homicides in 2020 reached the highest level in over 25 years, with 19,307 Americans murdered by a gun, a 26% increase over 2019. Major cities like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta saw a 50% to 100% increase in gun homicides over previous years. Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Greensboro, Kansas City, Louisville and Trenton set all-time records for gun homicides. Philadelphia and Fort Worth recorded the highest number of gun homicides in decades.

Child and Teen Gun Violence

With so many guns in circulation, and the strain of the pandemic and social unrest, it is inevitable that gun violence would impact children and teens through either accidental shootings or youth violence. 2020 recorded the highest level of child and teen gun violence with over 5,000 American youths shot or killed, a 35% increase over 2019. Over 1,000 of these gun violence victims were under the age of 11.

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Mass Shootings

2020 saw a surge in mass shootings, with 612 mass shootings, defined as 4+ victims not including the shooter. This was a 47% increase over 2019 and an 83% increase from five years ago. In 2020, America had 1.7 mass shootings every day with over 3,000 people killed or injured from a mass shooting.

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Total Gun Deaths and Injuries

For 2020, the total number of gun deaths (homicides and suicides) and gun injuries spiked to 82,876, a new record and a 19% increase over 2019. Suicides were actually down slightly from their high in 2018. But injuries from gun violence totaled 39,413, a 32% increase over 2019.

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2020 will be remembered for many things. It should also be remembered as the worst year for gun violence in our nation’s history. There are many causes according to the experts, including the strain of the pandemic, social unrest, policing actions and prisoner management, to mention a few. But there can be no doubt that record gun sales, a record number of guns in circulation, and the ease at which guns can be procured by almost anyone is a significant factor. Many other countries were impacted by the same issues that America faced in 2020, but none saw the level of gun violence that America did. It is time we took action to reduce gun violence, save lives, protect the young and innocent and start down the path to make America free from gun violence.

Free From Gun Violence was founded with the mission to help build a better future by reducing gun violence in America. We will broaden the awareness of gun violence, analyze and expose the issues behind it, and advocate all means to reduce it to make our country safer. Join us and help to build a country free from gun violence.