In the U.S., gun violence kills blacks at twice the rate of whites

Rate of fatal gun violence is holding steady in the U.S., but not all Americans are affected equally

The risk of dying from a gunshot wound is twice as high for African Americans as it is for white Americans, according to a new study based on 11 years’ worth of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 2000 and 2010, the rate of firearm-related fatalities in the U.S. was 9.05 per 100,000 people for whites and 18.51 per 100,000 people for blacks. When factoring in the 3.38 deaths per 100,000 people of other races, the country’s overall gun-related death rate was 10.21 per 100,000 Americans, researchers reported Thursday in the journal BMJ Open.

That racial discrepancy represents an improvement from the 1990s, the researchers noted: In 1993, gun fatalities were three times more common among blacks compared to whites.

Over the 11 years of the study, at least 335,609 Americans were killed by guns. (The CDC data almost certainly understates the true toll of gun violence, the researchers wrote.) These deaths include murders, suicides and accidental shootings.

The number of deaths varied slightly per year, but the changes were small enough that they could have been due to chance, according to the research team from Columbia University and the Jacobi Medical Center in New York.

The story was the same for 41 states, where the rate of firearm-related deaths was basically stable over the 11 years. But the death rate rose in two states – Massachusetts and Florida – and fell in seven others, as well as in the District of Columbia.

California was singled out in the study for having “the most marked reduction” in the rate of gun deaths. The researchers said this could be the result of tough antigun laws, including eight aimed at preventing gun trafficking. They noted that the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence ranked California top among all states for its laws on background checks, waiting periods, restrictions on who may own a gun and consumer and child safety. (California also benefited from a reduction in homicides of all sorts, with the overall homicide rate falling 25.4% between 2001 and 2010.)

But the story on gun laws isn’t so simple. Massachusetts also earned high marks from the Brady Center for its gun laws, and firearm ownership there “plummeted” after a 1998 gun control law passed, the researchers wrote. Yet both violent crimes in general and homicides in particular became more common in subsequent years. (The researchers speculated that guns may have flowed into the Bay State from neighboring New Hampshire and Maine, where gun control laws are less stringent.)

Meanwhile, in Florida, only two laws on the books address illegal gun trafficking, and authorities have little discretion to reject requests for concealed weapons licenses, according to the study. So perhaps it should come as little surprise that gun deaths rose in the Sunshine State during the study period.

But that increase was seen despite the fact that the overall violent crime rate fell by one-third between 2000 and 2010, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That’s a “particularly concerning public health problem,” the study authors wrote.  

Indeed, the “endemic” firearm violence in this country represents a “substantial, long-term cumulative health burden,” the researchers wrote. If present trends continue, Americans can expect to lose 336,778 lives to guns between 2011 and 2020, they calculated.

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