2020 saw more gun deaths in the US than any year in over two decades, showing even a pandemic couldn’t stop the violence

gun violence
New York Police Department installs tape around crime scene on August 16, 2020, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn where fatal shooting occurred.

  • There were a record number of gun violence deaths in 2020: 19,379.
  • This represents a huge leap from recent years, and the highest number in over two decades.
  • By one definition, there were also 611 mass shootings in 2020.
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Last year saw the highest number of gun violence deaths in the US in more than 20 years, even as the pandemic coincided with a relative absence of high-profile mass shootings on the scale of recent incidents in Atlanta and Boulder.

There were 19,379 gun violence deaths in the US in 2020, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. This statistic excludes suicides involving guns, which consistently account for a majority (roughly two-thirds) of annual US gun deaths. In 2020, Gun Violence Archive found there were 24,090 gun suicides.

Since Gun Violence Archive started tracking firearm violence in 2013, annual gun violence deaths generally fluctuated between 12,000 and 15,000. The next highest year after 2020 was 2017, when there were 15,718 gun violence deaths.

The recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado, which both occured less than a week apart, led many on social media to suggest that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and gradual return to normalcy would translate into a spike in mass shootings in 2021.

Former President Barack Obama, for example, in a statement responding to the Atlanta and Boulder shootings said, “A once-in-a-century pandemic cannot be the only thing that slows mass shootings in this country.”

But mass shootings actually increased in 2020 as compared to 2019, according to Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as four or more people being shot or killed in a single incident (excluding the shooter). There were 611 mass shootings in 2020, up from 417 in 2019.

That said, there is not a universally agreed upon definition of mass shootings. Gun Violence Archive’s standard is fairly broad compared to those used by other databases that define mass shootings as an incident in which four or more are fatally shot, not including the shooter.

But many experts say that defining mass shootings based on how many are shot rather than the number killed offers a fuller picture of the scale of gun violence in the US. It also helps highlight incidents that generally don’t make headlines and disproportionately impact Black Americans and people of color. Public mass shootings also account for just a fraction of total gun deaths in the US, and focusing on them can lead to myopic perspectives on gun violence.

“The difference between a fatality and a survivor might be simply a matter of marksmanship,” Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, recently told ABC News. “There’s no such thing as an insignificant life. We pay extra attention when a bunch of lives are lost all at once in a single event. We’re less aware of all the people who die or are shot or survive one at a time.”

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