Warning: The stories below contain information about suicide deaths. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

The U.S. public health agency found that gun-related homicides in the U.S. reached their highest level in decades in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated long-standing socioeconomic inequalities.

In a report released Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not establish a causal link between COVID-19 and gun violence, but said the pandemic “may have exacerbated existing social and economic pressures.” , especially in minority and racial communities.

From 2019 to 2020, the national firearm homicide rate rose 34.6 percent, from 4.6 to 6.1 per 100,000 people, the report found. According to the report, 79 percent of homicides in the U.S. in 2020 were gun-related, while 53 percent of suicide deaths were gun-related.

“The 2020 gun homicide rate is the highest recorded since 1994. However, the increase in gun homicides has not been evenly distributed. Young people, men and blacks have consistently had the highest gun homicide rates, and these groups experienced the greatest 2020 increase,” the report said.

“Long-standing systemic inequalities and structural racism that result in limited economic, housing, and educational opportunities are associated with inequalities in the risk of violence and other health conditions across racial and ethnic groups.”

Gun violence has been a problem in the United States for decades, with condemnation and calls for tighter restrictions, especially after mass shootings at schools.

But the powerful gun lobby is staunchly opposed to efforts to pass tougher gun laws, and gun rights advocates often point to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the right to “keep and bear arms.”

As of Tuesday, more than 15,300 people have died from gun violence so far this year, including suicide deaths, the U.S.-based nonprofit Archives of Gun Violence said on its website.

The U.S. has also recorded 185 mass shootings through 2022, according to the group, which defines a mass shooting as any incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding attackers.

“Gunshot wounds are a tragically significant public health problem in the United States,” Dr. Debra E Houry, the CDC’s acting principal deputy director, said in a news conference Tuesday announcing the agency’s report.

The CDC report found that while all population groups experienced gun-related homicides and suicides, “firearm homicide rates increased among men, adolescents and young adults, non-Hispanic black or African American (Black) and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN)”.

Personalized boxes are stacked at the Memorial to Victims of Gun Violence on the National Mall in Washington, DC on October 16, 2021 [File: Michael A McCoy/Reuters]

For example, the firearm homicide rate for black men and boys ages 10 to 24 in 2020 was 21.6 times that of white men and boys in the same age group, up from 20.6 times a year earlier.

Meanwhile, while the overall firearm suicide rate remained relatively unchanged between 2019 and 2020, “the largest increase was among AI/AN individuals, resulting in the highest firearm suicide rate in this group as of 2020.”

The findings came as U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the mass shootings as a “national embarrassment” and promised stricter gun control. But he faces an uphill battle with the gun lobby and lawmakers who oppose stricter gun laws.

Last month, Biden unveiled a new DOJ rule he said would combat the epidemic of so-called “ghost guns” — privately-made firearms without serial numbers found at crime scenes by law enforcement agencies.

At the same time, he urged Congress to “do its job” by passing budget appropriations and other legislation to reduce gun crime.

This includes “legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, ensuring no terrorists can buy weapons in the United States, banning the sale and possession of unserialized firearms – ghost guns, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and repealing Liability Protection for Gun Manufacturers,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that its report demonstrates the need to address underlying factors that contribute to homicide and suicide deaths, “including underlying economic, physical and social inequalities that contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in multiple health outcomes.”

Housing assistance, child care subsidies and livable wages can all help reduce poverty and other risk factors for violence, while communities can work to increase green space to improve living conditions, the CDC said. Support programs for victims of violence are also important.

“Gun deaths are preventable, not inevitable,” Houry said.