© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

South Carolina's gun death numbers are among the country's worst, especially if you're Black

South Carolina ranks ninth-worst among states for firearm homicides in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state's numbers are part of a national trend that the CDC says is a growing public health problem.
South Carolina ranks ninth-worst among states for firearm homicides in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The state's numbers are part of a national trend that the CDC says is a growing public health problem.

So far this week – and it’s only Wednesday (morning) – there have been five reported fatal shootings in South Carolina, with six dead. Among these statistics are two people killed in Chester, allegedly by a man out of jail on bond and who is being sought by police and the FBI.

Also included: a 19-year-old who was shot and killed at a gas station in Lugoff; a 60-year-old woman killed in Mullins; a 58-year-old woman killed in Socastee; and a 48-year-old man killed in Greenville.

Add to this a double homicide by gun in Williamsburg over the weekend and an officer-involved fatal shooting in Marion a week ago, and that’s nine South Carolinians dead by gunfire in just the past week.

Numbers like these are following a grim trend in the Palmetto State. April saw an unusually high number of people shot – not necessarily fatally – compared to most months, but April’s numbers factor in back-to-back mass shootings over Easter weekend that left almost two dozen people injured, as well as a five-person shooting in Colleton County the week before.

According to CDC data, South Carolina is a violent state when it comes to guns. In fact, according to the CDC, South Carolina ranks ninth-worst among US states when it comes to the percentage of residents who were killed by gunfire in 2020, the latest annual numbers compiled by the agency. That’s a rate of 22 gun-related deaths per 1,000 residents.

CDC counted 1,131 total gun deaths in South Carolina in 2020. That puts the state 17th overall in the number of people who died by gun that year.

The numbers contribute heavily to a report issued Tuesday by the CDC that shows a 35 percent spike in gun-related deaths in 2020. According to that report, nationally, guns factored in 79 percent of homicides and 53 percent of suicides that year – the highest numbers in a quarter-century.

Broken down further, the CDC’s numbers show a 39 percent increase in firearm homicides among African-Americans and a 42 percent rise in suicides by Native American/Alaska Native people.

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) backs up the disproportionate rate of firearm homicide among African Americans in South Carolina. While the overall rate of firearm homicide in 2020 was 22 per 1,000 residents, the rate of gun-related deaths among Black South Carolinians that year was 35.4, according to KFF – four points higher than the national average and twice the rate of gun-related deaths among white South Carolinians.

In trying to make sense of why guns factor so heavily in deaths among African-American males in particular, Jack Logan, an advocate for an end to gun violence and founder of Put the Guns Down Now Young People Organization in Greenville, said gun violence in the Black community is often anchored in feelings of betrayal and a lack of positive direction among young men.

“Young black males with a gun in their hands are holding anger in them from being hurt by family or someone very close to them,” Logan said in an email to South Carolina Public Radio. “Then if another person they trusted cross them they shoot … because they are determined not to allow anyone else to hurt them. Now also they are irresponsible in possessing a gun being [and] not able to control their anger.”

The CDC also found that gun-related deaths in the poorest counties in the U.S. were almost five times higher in 2020 than in 2019. Data from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, charting gun-related fatalities in every U.S. county from 2016-2020, bare this out in South Carolina. According to UW data, South Carolina’s poorest counties, including Allendale, Barnwell, and Colleton, have the highest per-capita firearm deaths in the state, with Allendale County’s rate at almost 40 gun deaths per 1,000 residents.

In the overview of its own data, the CDC soberly stated: “Firearm deaths continue to be a significant and growing public health problem in the United States.” The agency suggests that multiple pandemic-related stressors, including social isolation, disruptions to school and work, and eviction led to such high national numbers in 2020.

On May 5, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott held a press conference following the arrests of four men suspected in four separate shooting deaths over four months in the county. He called the situation “so very sad,” and challenged the state’s criminal justice system to deal better with what he sees as the most problematic threat when it comes to gun violence – repeat offenders, which all four suspects referenced in Lott’s May 5 press conference were labeled.

“I hope the criminal justice system that we’ve got does their job,” Lott said at the press conference. “Because right now, it’s cracked. We’ve got too many of these repeat offenders who are back out here in our community; who are terrorizing our communities. And they’re shooting people and they’re shooting each other.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.