U.S. firearms deaths reach highest levels in 28 years


Study finds wide disparities in causes, locations of fatalities

Firearms deaths are at their highest level in nearly 30 years, a new study finds, but the number of fatalities and the reasons for them vary according to race, ethnicity, gender, age and location.

Researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to analyze trends in the approximately 1.1 million firearms-related deaths that occurred in the U.S. between 1990 and 2021. They found that the number of fatalities, including both homicides and suicides, declined from 14.9 to 10.1 per 100,000 persons between 1990 and 2004. But they began climbing again in 2005, and by 2021 had reached a 28-year high of 14.7 fatalities per 100,000 persons, a 45.5% increase.

Along with the growing number of deaths from firearms, the authors discovered significant differences in who was dying and why. Among their findings:

  • By 2021 Black non-Hispanic men were experiencing 141.8 fatalities per 100,000 persons aged 20-24 and Hispanic men were experiencing up to 22.8 per 100,000 persons. These rates were 22.5 and 3.6 times higher, respectively, than the rate of 6.3 fatalities per 100,000 persons among white non-Hispanic men
  • In 2021 suicide rates were highest among white non-Hispanic men aged 80-84, at 46.8 per 100,000 persons
  • From 2014 to 2021 homicide rates among men went from 5.9 to 10.9 per 100,000 persons, an increase of 84.7%, while women saw an increase of 87% (1.1 to 2 per 100,000 persons)
  • The suicide rate among men in 2021 was about 7 times than of women (14.1 versus 2.0, respectively, per 100,000 persons)
  • Metropolitan areas had homicide rates of 6.6 fatalities per 100,000 residents, compared to 4.8 per 100,000 in non-metropolitan areas
  • Measured at the county level, the areas with the highest homicide rates moved from the western to the southern regions of the country. From 1999-2011 until 2014-2016 deaths per 100,000 persons decreased from 10.6 to 10.5 in western states while increasing from 12.8 to 13.9 in southern states.

The authors say their findings suggest that state-level interventions could help stem the increase in gun-related violence. They note that states with stronger child access-prevention laws, more comprehensive background checks and more gun purchase regulations had fewer deaths due to firearms. In addition, public health approaches to reducing firearm violence need to account for underlying demographic and geographic trends and differences by intent.

The study, “Trends and Disparities in Firearm Fatalities in the United States, 1990-2021” was published November 29 in JAMA Network Open.

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