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Rise in Gun Homicide Rates Highest in South Central, Midwest States

A rise in U.S. firearm homicides in recent years has primarily affected states in the South Central and Midwest parts of the nation, as well as disproportionately affecting people who are American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Black, finds to a new RAND Corporation study. While overall rates of racial and geographic disparities in firearm homicides declined in previous decades, the recent spike in firearm killings has reversed that improvement, worsening long-existing disparities, RAND reports. “Many of the demographic groups that already were heavily exposed to firearm violence have experienced some of the largest recent increases in firearm homicides,” said Rosanna Smart, the study's lead author and an economist at RAND. “Unfortunately, this ongoing spike in firearm killings has reversed a trend that saw disparities waning over the previous two decades.” Firearm homicides reached a rate of 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. In that year, firearms use accounted for three of every four homicides—the highest ratio since systematic data on homicide mechanisms became available. The ratio has grown even larger since the end of the study period.


Although the recent rise in nationwide homicide rates has been widely reported, limited research has evaluated the extent to which the increase is a national phenomenon or is concentrated among geographic areas and certain demographic groups. On average, after decreasing by one percent annually from 2006 to 2014, firearm homicide rates increased by six percent annually from 2014 to 2019. During the period of rising firearm homicides, trends across the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia varied substantially. Many of the states with the highest risk in 2014 also had the largest relative increases in risk over time, thereby compounding existing geographic disparities. Among the most notable divergences were the relatively worsening conditions in some Midwest and South Central states, where there were increases of firearm homicides of seventy five percent to one hundred fifteen percent.