15 U.S. Counties With the Most Gun Deaths

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on BackgroundChecks.org.

Over the past few years, the U.S. has seen sharply increasing levels of violent crime. After two decades of decreases beginning in the mid-1990s, incidents have begun to rise again. Within the last two years, the trend has become especially pronounced. FBI data recently showed a 5.6% increase in violent crime from 2019 to 2020, even as rates of property crime continued to decline. Over the same year, the murder rate rose by around 30%, one of the largest year-over-year increases on record.

Guns are closely tied to this trend in the U.S. The U.S. has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership of any country, and researchers have found the prevalence of guns to be associated with greater amounts of violent crime and gun deaths generally. Given these dynamics, it is unsurprising to see that gun-related deaths have spiked in recent years during the broader increase in violent crime.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control reveals how this trend has played out. In 2014, there were only 3.5 gun-related homicides per 100,000 population. By 2016, that figure increased to 4.6, and in 2020, it jumped to 6.2. Separately, gun-related suicides have also increased in recent years — from a low of 5.5 per 100,000 population in 2006 to 7.0 in 2020 — but this increase has been more gradual.

In total, 45,221 deaths in 2020 were gun-related, which is a 14% increase over the prior year and a 43% increase over a decade before. These gun-related deaths constitute a majority of both homicides and suicides. Over the past three years, more than three in four U.S. homicides (76.4%) involved a gun, while more than half of suicides (51.2%) were gun-related.

Large Counties With the Highest Rates of Gun Deaths

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While the overall growth of gun-related deaths is a nationwide issue, some locations are more affected than others. Many of the states with the highest rates of gun-related deaths are states that also have the highest rates of gun ownership. These states include locations in the South and Mountain West, along with Alaska. Mississippi leads the nation in gun-related fatalities per 100,000 residents at 28.6, followed by neighboring Louisiana at 26.3, and Wyoming at 25.9. At the other end of the spectrum, Hawaii has the lowest rate of gun-related fatalities at 3.4 per 100,000 residents, followed by a group of Northeastern states including Massachusetts (3.7) and New Jersey (5.0). However, gun ownership is not a perfect predictor of gun deaths: For example, states like New Hampshire and Maine have relatively high levels of gun prevalence but are also in the bottom 10 states for gun deaths per capita.

Gun-related deaths are also unevenly distributed at the local level. While some of the Southern and Western states with higher levels of gun fatalities do have counties with similarly high levels of gun deaths, many of the top gun-death counties are found in Rust Belt locations like Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Detroit. These more economically distressed locations may have greater levels of gun violence due to the relationship between factors like social mobility and income inequality and gun deaths.

The data used in this analysis is from the CDC’s WONDER Database (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research). To identify the locations with the most gun deaths, researchers at BackgroundChecks.org calculated the rates of gun-related death per 100,000 residents in 2020. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater total number of gun-related deaths in 2020 was ranked higher. To provide additional context, researchers also calculated the proportion of all homicides and suicides that involve a gun, using data from 2018 to 2020.

Here are the large U.S. counties (population 750,000 or more) with the most gun deaths.

15. DeKalb County, GA

DeKalb County Courthouse
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 19.0
  • Total gun-related deaths: 145
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: -15.2%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 87.1%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 57.3%

14. Hamilton County, OH

Hamilton County Memorial Hall
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 19.4
  • Total gun-related deaths: 159
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +23.3%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 85.9%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 51.6%

13. Pima County, AZ

Pima County Courthouse
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 19.5
  • Total gun-related deaths: 207
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +1.5%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 69.4%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 60.7%

12. Cook County, IL

Cook County Illinois
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 20.4
  • Total gun-related deaths: 1,040
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +45.7%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 87.2%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 33.5%

11. Fulton County, GA

Fulton County Georgia
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 21.4
  • Total gun-related deaths: 231
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +29.1%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 83.1%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 51.1%

10. Oklahoma County, OK

Oklahoma County building
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 23.1
  • Total gun-related deaths: 186
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +0.5%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 79.0%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 58.2%

9. Cuyahoga County, OH

Cuyahoga County Courthouse
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 24.3
  • Total gun-related deaths: 298
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +29.6%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 82.1%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 48.6%

8. Milwaukee County, WI

Milwaukee County Courthouse
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 25.6
  • Total gun-related deaths: 242
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +69.2%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 82.3%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 42.3%

7. Duval County, FL

Duval County Courthouse
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 25.6
  • Total gun-related deaths: 247
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +14.4%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 83.1%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 56.6%

6. Wayne County, MI

Wayne County Michigan
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 26.3
  • Total gun-related deaths: 458
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +30.9%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 86.2%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 51.8%

5. St. Louis County, MO

St. Louis St Louis Saint Louis
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 26.4
  • Total gun-related deaths: 262
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +15.9%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 90.8%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 51.9%

4. Jefferson County, KY

Louisville, Kentucky
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 31.0
  • Total gun-related deaths: 238
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +65.3%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 89.2%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 53.0%

3. Marion County, IN

Indianapolis, Indiana
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 32.8
  • Total gun-related deaths: 317
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +46.1%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 85.2%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 58.0%

2. Philadelphia County, PA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 34.1
  • Total gun-related deaths: 538
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +46.6%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 86.8%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 38.1%

1. Shelby County, TN

Memphis Tennessee
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  • Total gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents: 40.6
  • Total gun-related deaths: 380
  • Change in gun-related deaths since 2019: +36.7%
  • Gun-related homicides as a share of total homicides: 91.5%
  • Gun-related suicides as a share of total suicides: 64.0%

Methodology & Detailed Findings

Guns
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The data used in this analysis is from the CDC’s WONDER Database (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research). To identify the locations with the most gun deaths, researchers calculated the rates of gun-related death per 100,000 residents in 2020. In the event of a tie, the location with the greater total number of gun-related deaths in 2020 was ranked higher. For national- and state-level statistics, the rates shown are age-adjusted. Age-adjusted rates are not available for county-level estimates. To provide additional context, researchers also calculated the proportion of all homicides and suicides that involve a gun, using data from 2018-2020. Only counties with at least 200,000 residents in 2020 were included in the analysis. Additionally, counties were grouped into cohorts based on population size: small (200,000-349,999); midsize (350,000-749,999); and large (750,000 or more).

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