Jacqueline Howard, CNN, April 24, 2018
America’s gun violence problem is evident nationwide, but a new study reveals that how different groups of people across the country experience such violence can vary dramatically, depending upon who they are and where they live.
The research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday, measures drastic differences in how black and white men experience fatal gun violence in the United States.
Between 2008 and 2016, black men were more likely to die by guns in homicides, whereas white men were more likely to die by guns in suicides, and for both groups, the rates of those types of death varied widely by state, according to the study.
“The important thing here is that we were able to estimate these differences between black and white men, and that helps us understand health inequalities,” said Corinne Riddell, a postdoctoral researcher at McGill University in Canada who was lead author of the study.
Biggest surprise: State differences
The study involved death-certificate data on homicides and suicides among non-Hispanic black and white men across the United States between 2008 and 2016. The data came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database.
The researchers computed the average annual death rate among the men according to race, intent (such as homicide or suicide) and firearm involvement. They also calculated any inequalities in those age-adjusted rates between the two groups. In total, their analysis included 84,113 homicides and 251,772 suicides.
Compared with white men, the researchers found that black men experienced 27 more firearm homicides per 100,000 people annually nationwide (29.12 for black men vs. 2.1 for white men). The states with the highest rates of firearm homicide among black men in the data — namely Missouri, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana — also had the largest disparities between blacks and whites, the researchers found.
Suicide rates were found to be higher among white men than black men. Compared with black men, the researchers found that white men had nine more firearm suicides per 100,000 people annually nationwide (5.41 for black men vs. 14.34 for white men).
Six of the 10 states with the largest disparities in firearm suicide rates were in the southern part of the country: Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas, South Carolina and Louisiana, the researchers found. The other four were in the West: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.
The researchers also examined the relationships between gun ownership and these homicide and suicide rates by race and state. They used 2004 data, the most recent available, on household firearm ownership in the US from the CDC’s national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
They found that rates of gun ownership in a state were positively associated with both homicide and suicide rates among white men but only modestly associated with homicide and suicide rates among black men.
More research is needed to answer ‘why’
Though the new study adds to the growing conversation about guns in the United States, it also had some limitations.
“The biggest limitation is that in our study, we only looked at fatalities, but non-fatal gun injuries make up a large proportion of the total burden of gun-related injury,” Riddell said.
“When we’re talking about firearm suicide attempts, they’re about 80% to 90% fatal,” she said. But for firearm attempted homicides, “they’re closer to being 20% fatal. So in our study, we’re missing most of the burden of firearm injuries associated with attempted homicide.”
Other limitations include that the study focused on death certificates, which sometimes can be misclassified; only data on non-Hispanic black and white men were analyzed, which means more research is needed to determine whether similar findings would emerge among other groups; and the data on gun ownership were outdated, as they came from 2004, years before the other data in the study.
Even though the study couldn’t explain why there were these differences in gun deaths by race and states, the researchers offered some ideas.
The firearm suicides appeared to occur at the highest rates in rural settings while the homicides occurred at the highest rates in urban settings, the researchers noted.
[Editor’s Note: Please note that this article is dated April 24, 2018.]