Infectious Disease

Historic rise in firearm homicides widens existing racial, social disparities

Source/Disclosures

Disclosures:
Houry, Simon and Walensky report no relevant financial disclosures.

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CDC officials reported a historic increase of 35% in firearm homicides in 2020. This is the highest firearm homicide rate in the United States in more than 25 years, according to a CDC Vital Signs analysis.

“The tragic and historic increase in firearm homicide and the persistently high rates of firearm suicide underscore the urgent need for action to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths,” CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyMD, MPH, said in a press release.

CDC officials reported a historic increase of 35% in firearm homicides in 2020. Source: Adobe Stock.

Increased firearm homicide and suicide rates have widened existing racial, ethnic and social disparities, the CDC said.

“The rate among young black men and boys ages 10 to 24 is more than 21 times as high as the rate for white males,” Thomas R. Simon, PhD, the associate director for science in the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, said in a CDC briefing on the analysis.

Homicide rates increased among women and girls as well as men and boys, but the increase was more prominent among men and boys. Rates were higher and increased more in counties with higher poverty levels, according to the analysis.

“American Indian and Alaskan Native populations experienced the largest increase in firearm suicide rate,” Simon said. “Firearm homicides and suicides are associated with economic conditions, and racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to live in areas with high surrounding poverty.

Moreover, while the overall firearm suicide rate remained nearly level between 2019 and 2020, rates were highest in nonmetropolitan rural areas.

“It is important to note that the relationship between poverty to suicide and homicide rate goes beyond race and ethnicity,” Simon said. “County poverty levels are likely a marker for a range of other contributing factors (long standing systemic inequities, structural racism, limited economic housing and educational opportunity) that contributed to unfair and avoidable health disparities among some racial and ethnic groups.”

Firearm homicides and suicides may be prevented by focusing on the places and people experiencing the greatest burden of violence as well as the underlying conditions contributing to firearm risk, according to Debra E. houryMD, MPH, the CDC acting principal deputy director and director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Some examples of prevention strategies include mentoring, supporting norms against intimate partner violence and other violence, and teaching coping and problem-solving skills. Hourly also recommended implementing programs to prevent substance use and address mental health and conducting additional research to expand evidence-based or program policies.

“Some prevention strategies will have more immediate benefits while others will have longer-term and sustained effects,” Houry said during the briefing.

Physicians can work to prevent firearm homicides and suicides by using motivational interviewing and referrals and by asking about firearm storage. Counseling paired with a safety device can result in improved safety measures, according to Houry.

“Physicians have such an important role when it comes to preventing suicide and homicide,” she told Healio.

References:

CDC media briefing — New vital signs report firearm deaths show historic increase What can be done to prevent firearm homicides and suicides? LINK. Published May 10, 2022. Accessed May 10, 2022.

Firearm deaths grow, disparities widen. LINK. Published May 10, 2022. Accessed May 10, 2022.

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