For Release: Tuesday, February 1, 2022
More than 45,000 Americans Killed by Gunfire in 2020, the Highest Gun Death Toll on Record
Mississippi, Wyoming, Louisiana, Alaska, Missouri, and Alabama Have Highest Gun Death Rates in the Nation; Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York Have Lowest Gun Death Rates in the Nation
Washington, DC — New CDC WONDER data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that states with the highest rates of overall gun death in the nation are those with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership according to a new Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis. In addition, states with the lowest overall gun death rates have some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation and lower rates of gun ownership.
The VPC analysis looks at overall gun death (homicides, suicides, and fatal unintentional shootings) in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. A table of the states with the five highest gun death rates and the five lowest gun death rates is below. For a list of gun death rates in all 50 states, see https://vpc.org/state-firearm-death-rates-ranked-by-rate-2020/.
The total number of Americans killed by gunfire in 2020 was 45,222, a 14 percent increase from 39,707 in 2019. The nationwide gun death rate in 2020 also increased dramatically: from 12.10 per 100,000 in 2019 to 13.73 per 100,000 in 2020.
The increase in Americans killed with guns was overwhelming driven by gun homicide in 2020. The number of firearm homicides increased from 14,414 in 2019 to 19,384 in 2020 – an increase of 34 percent. Firearm suicide deaths increased from 23,941 in 2019 to 24,292 in 2020, an increase of 1.5 percent.
The state with the highest per capita gun death rate in 2020 was Mississippi, followed by Wyoming, Louisiana, Alaska, Missouri, and Alabama. Each of these states has extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership. The state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation was Hawaii, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership.
“The evidence could not be more compelling that states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have strikingly lower rates of gun death,” states VPC Government Affairs Director Kristen Rand, adding, “This unprecedented spike in firearm homicide should be of tremendous concern to all Americans. Gun violence is a major public health threat that demands immediate attention from policymakers nationwide.”
State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.
The VPC defined states with “weak” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public. States with “strong” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is absent from federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restrictions on the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.
State gun ownership rates were obtained from the July 2019 American Journal of Preventative Medicine article by Aaron J. Kivisto, et al., “Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S.,” which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.