Report: Greater Minn. suicides were majority of gun deaths in 2021

Map of Minnesota with pin drops
A map shows the location of gun deaths in Minnesota in 2021. The purple pins represent suicides. The red pins represent homicides. Find an interactive version of the map, including demographic details for the deceased, below. Data provided by Protect Minnesota.
Megan Burks | MPR News

Gunshots on the Midway. Though the public remained largely safe, it was an unwelcome end to the “Great Minnesota Get Together,” and another shot of trauma in a year seemingly riddled with bullets.

The violence has left many of us feeling vulnerable. But a new report on gun deaths in 2021 suggests its not the public that’s most at risk. Nearly 70 percent of gun deaths in Minnesota last year were suicides.

The report comes from Protect Minnesota, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to end gun violence. Communication director Maggiy Emery joined All Things Considered Friday to talk through the data.

Hear the conversation using the audio player above or read a transcript of it below. It has been edited for length.

Explore the data using the interactive map below. Purple pins represent suicides. Red pins represent homicides. Click on the pins for demographics and other details about the deceased.

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How many gun deaths did you record in 2021, and how does that compare with previous years?

Our research found that 570 people were killed by firearms statewide last year. Gun deaths are up 13 percent from what we recorded in 2020 and 32 percent from 2019.

I’m sure a lot of people have that thought that creeps in large public gatherings: What would I do if someone started shooting? But when you look at the data here, are we as vulnerable as we sometimes feel? What's behind the majority of gun deaths.

So that 570 figure seems really, really large, but the truth is that the vast majority of those deaths are firearm suicides. That's not to say that interpersonal gun violence doesn't happen and that it's not real in our state. But when we're talking about gun violence in Minnesota, 67 percent of those deaths were suicides.

And when we look at the demographics of where these suicides are occurring, last year, over 80 percent of them were in greater Minnesota. So we really have to look at what's happening in our rural areas. How are we letting the people who live there down and how can we address that both legislatively and in our communities?

I think it starts with talking about poverty in rural areas, the loneliness epidemic in rural areas, the stigma that we have, not only in greater Minnesota, but in our entire state around talking about mental health and mental health care. If we want to address the suicide epidemic as it exists in our state, we really have to start there.

When you look at this data, what else do you see that is either surprising or important to highlight?

The thing that's really interesting is that gun violence is up in every category. When we look at that 570 number, we're looking at an increase in community gun violence, we're looking at an increase in domestic violence, we're looking at an increase in in suicide.

When it comes to the prevalence of firearms, put Minnesota in a national context for us.

Minnesota has been a leader in a lot of ways. We actually passed the first-ever piece of legislation that would stop people with domestic violence convictions on their record from being able to purchase firearms. So that's definitely a plus on Minnesota's record.

I would say we're right in the middle, in terms of other things. We have seen a significant uptick in firearm ownership in the past couple of years in Minnesota. The first half of this year alone saw over 500,000 new firearms purchased in our state. So I think that really is something that we have to think about, as well.

Research shows that although almost half of Minnesotans own firearms, less than half of those owners practice safe and secure storage in the home. That is one of the No. 1 things that we can do to stop guns from being used in a way that they're not intended, whether it’s a suicide, whether it’s a child taking a relative’s gun to school, or whether a gun is stolen and used in crime.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential phone & text crisis support. Call or text 988 to get started.