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Intentional killings rose nearly 30% in US in 2020: FBI

September 28, 2021

The United States experienced a sharp year-on-year increase in murders and other intentional homicides in 2020. More than a three-quarters were carried out with firearms.

Police car, USA
According to the FBI, 77% of the murders in 2020 were committed with a firearmImage: Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty Images

The number of murders and other intentional killings in the US jumped 29.4% in 2020 over the previous year, to some 21,500, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said on Monday.

It was a sharp increase on the previous year, although the modern rates are also far lower than figures regularly logged in the US in the 1980s and early 1990s.

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, 77% of the killings were committed with firearms — up from 74% in 2019. Overall, violent crime rose 5.6% in 2020, while property crimes dropped 7.8%, the FBI said. Assaults increased by 12%.

The rise in murder was national, not regional, but the Southern state of Louisiana continued to have the highest murder rate in the country, the report found.

Surge in gun sales and firearm carrying

Criminologists and police officials have been analyzing possible explanations for the sudden, sharp rise in killings in 2020, but have not given a clear explanation. Experts have, however, pointed to the destabilizing impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a rise in gun sales.

The city of Houston in the state of Texas saw a 55% increase in gun murders, which rose from 221 in 2019 to 343 in 2020. Houston saw more than 400 killings in 2020.

Analysts have also highlighted other possible contributing factors to the rise in murders, such as increased firearm carrying, and increased distrust between the police and civilians after the murder of George Floyd.

The FBI said around 16,000 federal, state, county, city, university, college and tribal agencies had submitted data to the crime report. 

US: Hoarding guns for the corona crisis

The US murder rate is notoriously high among more-developed countries. Of the G20 members, only South Africa, Brazil and Russia tend to record higher murder rates per capita, while Argentina's figures are roughly the same.

US: Combatting the surge in gun violence

mvb/msh (AFP)