For every American killed by gunfire, an estimated two or more survive, often with horrific injuries — a fact public health experts say is critical to understanding the full impact of guns on society.
A new government study reveals just how violent America’s recent past has been, showing a spike in gunshot wounds during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the number of people fatally shooting at each other — and themselves.
The number of people injured by gunshots was nearly 40% higher in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a study released Thursday. In 2022, gunshot wounds declined but were still 20% higher than before the pandemic.
Gunshot injuries have similarly increased in men and women over the past three years, while the largest proportional increase has been in children under the age of 15, a subgroup that still accounts for a small fraction of the overall problem.
Experts say the CDC study of gun injuries, which uses data from hospital emergency departments, is helping to paint a broader picture of gun violence in America than just measuring homicides and suicides.
“Hospitals are a great place to know who’s being shot at, when, and where,” said Catherine Barber, a senior injury researcher at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.
The results of the CDC study came from more than 2,200 U.S. hospital emergency departments, which make up the majority of the country’s emergency departments, said Thomas Simon, one of the authors of the new study.
The study suggests that the number of shot-related hospital emergency room visits in the study increased from around 50,000 in 2019 to more than 72,000 in 2020. Because more than a quarter of US hospital emergency departments were not involved in the study, the actual number is likely much higher.
Experts believe a variety of factors have contributed to the pandemic surge in gun violence, including a surge in gun purchases, more time spent in homes where guns are present, and mental health issues attributed to social isolation and economic difficulties are.
The CDC study shows a spike in gunshot injuries around mid-March 2020 after a pandemic emergency was declared and lockdowns and other measures were put in place. A sharper jump came a few months later, in the second half of May, as protests and civil unrest followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
While the CDC study did not differentiate between assault or accidental injuries, other research has shown that about 3 in 4 gunshot wounds are intentional.
More than 45,000 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States in 2020, and more than 47,000 in 2021, according to the CDC.
The country’s gun violence issue was raised again this week after a gunman killed 3 children and 3 adults at a Christian school in Tennessee; No one who was shot survived. The shooter was killed by police.
“We are in a week where unfortunately people are paying attention to this issue again, following a mass shooting in Nashville,” said Nina Vinik, executive director of Project Unloaded, an advocacy group focused on the impact of gun violence on children. “Hopefully this paper will add new data to this conversation.”
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