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Deadly shootings are on the rise again in the U.S. after 20 years of steady decline, CDC data show

Deadly shootings are on the rise again in the U.S. after 20 years of steady decline, CDC data show
In this image taken from video, a victim is carried from the scene of a shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that deadly shootings are on the rise after two decades of decline. (RMG News)

After steadily declining for more than two decades, deadly shootings are rising across the country, according to a new report from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report also shows that the number of suicides involving a firearm increased by 21% between 2006 and 2016.

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The study, published in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, examined gun deaths around the country and in 50 major metropolitan areas. It found a rise in gun homicides in 2015 and 2016, reversing a downward trend and bringing them to a level comparable to a decade ago.

It also reported that deadly shootings were up across all age groups nationwide.

“It is too soon to know whether recent increases in firearm homicide rates represent a short-term fluctuation or the beginning of a longer-term trend,” wrote the researchers from the agency’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The findings were released shortly after a gunman in Thousand Oaks killed 12 people, including a county sheriff’s deputy, at the Borderline Bar and Grill. Less than two weeks earlier, a gunman walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people.

Despite the high publicity garnered by mass shootings in recent years, the Pew Research Center previously reported that the rate of firearm homicides began declining in the 1990s and then remained fairly flat from 2001 to 2014.

The federal researchers analyzed mortality and population data from the nation’s 50 most populous metropolitan areas to calculate firearm-related homicides and suicides during two time periods, 2015-16 and 2012-13.

They found that more than 27,000 people were killed in gun homicides in 2015-16, resulting in a death rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people.

The rate was higher — 4.9 per 100,000 people — for the 50 cities, where more than 17,000 people were killed.

By comparison, firearm-related homicides claimed nearly 23,000 lives across the country, and more than 14,000 in the 50 cities, in 2012-13.

Andrew Papachristos, a sociologist at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study, said changes in the level of gun violence can come from a variety of factors, including different police protocols, gang violence and general mistrust.

Nearly 45,000 people killed themselves with a gun in 2015-16, an increase of more than 3,000 compared with 2012-13, according to the report.

The researchers noted that the sharp decadelong rise in gun suicides coincided partly with the Great Recession that began in 2007. But the increases have continued despite the economic recovery, they said.

The ease of access to a gun has been shown to be a key link to these acts. The time between deciding to die by suicide and attempting it can be as brief as 10 minutes, the report said, so finding a gun quickly can make the attempt much easier. Often, people do not try an alternative method when the highly lethal route is unavailable.

The report stressed the importance of proper gun storage to reduce the risk of suicide.

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Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, said mental health professionals struggle with trying to predict who is at risk.

“People act impulsively in moments of despair,” said Metzl, who was not involved with the CDC study. “And it may or may not be linked to psychiatric illness.”

Males are more likely to kill themselves with a firearm. According to the report, men and boys made up 85% of these deaths both in the 50 major cities and nationally.

Approximately the same share of men died in gun-related homicides. However, it is important to note these issues affect different populations, Papachristos said. Minorities represent a disproportionate share of homicides, while suicide claims a disproportionate number of white men.

Heredia Rodriguez is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent publication of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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