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6 charts that show the rise of guns in the U.S. — and people dying from them

Data shows how the gun landscape has changed in the last decade.
A man works on the rails of an AR-15 style rifle
A production manager for Battle Rifle Co. works on the rails of an AR-15-style rifle in Webster, Texas, in 2017. More than 8 million guns were manufactured that year.Lisa Marie Pane / AP file

Gun sales in the U.S. are rising. So are the deaths caused by those firearms. 

Whether it’s in child firearm deaths (which peaked in 2020), or active shooter incidents (which are also up), or gun manufacturing (which has doubled in recent years), these weapons exert a growing force on how we live — and, increasingly, how we die, data shows.

When the shooter entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing at least 21 people, the 19 children he killed joined a growing number of kids in the U.S. who die from gun-related injuries. More than 2,200 children died gun-related deaths in 2020, the first time in the past 20 years that figure had broken 2,000.

There have been twice as many active shooter incidents in the last 11 years as there were in the 11 before, FBI data shows. And along the way, people have continued to buy more guns.

These six charts show how the gun landscape has changed in the last decade.

Firearms were the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. in 2020, surpassing deaths by car crashes, drug overdoses and cancer, according to research published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The number of active shooter incidents — which the FBI describes as events in which someone is engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area — has reached new highs in the last decade. There were 61 active shooter incidents last year, according to FBI data, which topped the previous year’s record of 40 incidents

Active shooter incidents killed 103 people and left 140 others wounded last year.

The FBI doesn’t include all gun-related shootings, such as those attributed to gang and drug violence, as well as domestic disputes.

Worldwide, the U.S. rate of gun ownership stands out. There are about 120 civilian-owned guns for every 100 residents here, according to Small Arms Survey, a Swiss group that favors gun control.

That’s nearly 10 times the average rate of gun ownership among countries with more than 1 million residents, and it’s more than double the rate of the next-highest country, Yemen.

U.S. gun sales have almost doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic started, rising from an average of 1 million guns sold monthly in 2019 to nearly 2 million a month in 2020, according to data from the FBI and Small Arms Analytics, a firearms research and consulting company based in South Carolina.

Sales rose sharply at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and again in June following widespread unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing that May.

Domestic gun manufacturing boomed in the years before the recent rise in gun deaths and shooting incidents. 

From 1988 to 1992, the production of guns hovered between 3 million and 4 million annually, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Fast-forward to 2009, when more than 5 million guns were made for the first time since President Bill Clinton was in office. Since then, gun manufacturing numbers have increased more years than they have decreased, peaking at 11 million in 2016.

And the types of guns have changed. After the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, pistol and rifle manufacturing picked up steam, according to ATF data.

The number of guns imported has also risen in recent years, to about 6.8 million in 2020, according to ATF data. That was the most since data started being collected in 1986, when only 700,000 guns were imported.

Gun manufacturers made a profit after news of the Texas shooting hit. The share prices for Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. outperformed the S&P 500 by the end of the business day Wednesday.