Gun Violence: How Worried Are Americans?

Gun sales continue to boom as gun-related incidents  dominate headlines across the US. This year is on track to outpace 2020 for gun violence incidents and deaths, which reached peaks not seen since the '90s in some major cities. 

The whole country has grown increasingly on edge as gun violence in general has continued to plague the US in recent years.

53% of Americans are highly concerned about gun violence every single day.

Since 2019, we’ve surveyed over 15,000 Americans—with representation from each state—to find out how worried people are about different crime and safety issues.

Our first State of Safety survey didn’t specifically ask about anything related to guns. But, due to a number of spontaneous answers showing high anxiety in this area, we added questions about mass shootings and gun violence (in general) to subsequent surveys.

Here’s what America told us—and the tragic numbers driving a national concern about this ongoing issue.

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Americans have a complicated relationship with guns

Concern about gun violence and mass shootings increased by 39% year over year. Guns, in general, have been showing up in survey respondents’ open answers since our first survey.

Some people rely on firearms as a form of protection, others are afraid of ongoing reports about mass shootings and other gun incidents in the news, and some are worried about gun rights being threatened.

“[I worry about] the people trying to take gun owners’ guns away.” —Kansas respondent

Only 2% of Kansas respondents reported experience with gun violence, and Kansas is the 39th most-concerned state in regard to gun violence.

Gun incidents are getting closer to home

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Deadly holiday weekends

Independence Day weekend was marred by more than 500 shootings, resulting in over 230 deaths and 618 people injured.

On Memorial day weekend, the US saw at least a dozen mass shooting incidents across eight states.

What stood out in our survey this year was the number of people who told us they regularly hear gunshots in their neighborhood. People also reported more gun incidents closer to where they live.

Of all comments that mentioned guns or gun violence, 9 out of 10 expressed anxiety or fear.

“In the area where I live, there seems to be a lot more shootings than there used to be.” —Indiana respondent

10% of Indiana respondents reported experience with gun violence, and Indiana is the 13th most-concerned state in regard to gun violence.

“I hear gunshots two to three times a week in my neighborhood.” —South Carolina respondent

12% of South Carolina respondents reported experience with gun violence, and South Carolina is the 19th most-concerned state in regard to gun violence.

Personal experience with a gun violence incident rose 14% year over year, and nearly 4 in 10 Americans are worried about a gun violence incident happening to them.

  • The states that have seen the most mass shooting incidents this year are Illinois with 20, California and Texas with 18 each, and Louisiana with 15 incidents—as of May 27.
  • When it comes to concern about gun violence, New York, Georgia, and California are the most worried states.
  • The states that reported the most personal experience with gun violence in 2020 are Alabama (19%), New York (18%), and Ohio (17%).
  • Nationwide, 8% of survey respondents reported a personal experience with gun violence in the past 12 months.
“Do I need a gun? Will there be a time when . . . people all are running rampant with their guns and I will be in danger because I do not have one?” —Louisiana respondent

11% of Louisiana respondents reported experience with gun violence, and Louisiana is the sixth most-concerned state in regard to gun violence.

Some rely on guns for protection

Many Americans look to guns to protect themselves, their families, and their property. But we were surprised to find that more people use a firearm for personal protection than to keep their property safe.

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From no guns to pro guns

Worry and fear are driving some people who were anti-gun to embrace firearms for protection.

Gun sales are also booming in populations that typically adopt guns at a lower rate. Sales to both women and people of color  jumped in 2020.

  • 26% of respondents who use a form of home protection use firearms—7% less than reported in 2020.
  • 38% of respondents who use a form of personal protection rely on a concealed carry firearm, a drop of 3% year over year.
  • Use of firearms for protection dropped across the board between our 2020 and 2021 reports, despite record-breaking gun sales nationwide in 2020.
  • Depending on the source, between 20% and 40% of gun purchases in 2020 were first-time gun owners.
“No concerns keep me up. I have a gun in every room.” —Alaska respondent

6% of Alaska respondents reported experience with gun violence, and Alaska is the second least-concerned state in regard to gun violence.

Gun violence by the numbers

The country has been shaken by two violent and deadly holiday weekends, but the startling headlines don't end with the holidays. Here’s a look at how 2021 so far compares to the rate of shootings across the country in recent years.

Gun violence statistics in the US 2018–2021*

YearGun violence deaths Gun violence injuriesMass shootings
202123,699*21,391*353*
202043,55739,445610
201939,53730,154417
201814,89028,798336

*Year-to-date data for 2021 through July 14, 2021.

Notable findings

  • Gun violence deaths in the US increased by 88% between 2018 and 2020.
  • Injuries from gun violence increased 18% between 2018 and 2020.
  • Mass shootings jumped 35% between 2018 and 2020.
  • So far this year, 2021 has seen 45,090 deaths and injuries due to gun violence—that’s 54% of 2020’s total.
  • 2021 has had 353 mass shootings as of May 25—58% of the total incidents seen in 2020.

Surprising state insights

These states have all seen more than one million firearms background checks so far in 2021.

  • Illinois: 6,050,704
  • Kentucky: 1,651,442
  • Indiana: 1,137,707
  • Texas: 1,062,416 

These states have had the most mass shooting incidents so far in 2021.

  • Illinois: 39
  • Texas: 29
  • California: 24
  • Ohio: 22
  • Florida: 21

To find out more about gun violence attitudes, perceptions, and experiences in your state, see our Safest Cities reports or read the full State of Safety in America 2021 report.

Firearms checks data from the FBI as of June 30, 2021.

Mass shooting data from Gun Violence Archive as of July 14, 2021.

Related articles on SafeWise


Endnotes

Gun violence

SafeWise uses data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) to track gun violence incidents. We also adhere to the GVA definition for mass shootings.

Mass shooting definition: “If four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not involving the shooter, that incident is categorized as a mass shooting based purely on that numerical threshold.”

All GVA data is current as of the date last accessed. The GVA regularly changes and updates its data as incidents are examined for accuracy.


Sources

SafeWise, “2021 State of Safety survey,” Accessed July 14, 2021.

Gun Violence Archive, “Mass Shootings in 2021,” Accessed July 14, 2021.

Gun Violence Archive, “Past Summary Ledgers,” Accessed July 14, 2021.

Gun Violence Archive, “General Methodology,” Accessed July 14, 2021.

FBI, "NICS Firearm Checks: Month/Year by State," Accessed July 14, 2021.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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