Rustbelt states may have greatest racial disparities between for firearm homicides

Originally Published By 2 Minute Medicine®. Reused on MPR with permission.

1. Racial disparities for firearm homicides between black and white males are highest in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, with higher rates for black males.

2. White males have a greater risk than black males for firearm suicides, especially in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Evidence Rating Level: 4 (Below Average)

Study Rundown: Although it is known that there are racial disparities in deaths from violence, it is unknown if these disparities differ by state and to what extent they differ.  In this surveillance study, researchers compared the rates between states for homicide and suicide (both caused and not by firearms) among non-Hispanic black and white men.  The authors found that there were large differences between states for rates of homicide and suicide caused by firearms.  Rust-belt states had the greatest racial disparities between black and white males, with higher rates of firearm homicides for black males.  White males had higher rates of firearm suicides in states in the south and west.  The authors suggest that these states may benefit most from gun policies that reduce deaths from homicide and suicide and that decrease the racial disparities that are present in their rates. A strength of this study was that it used data from a 9-year study period and included data from 84 113 homicides and 251 772 suicides.  A limitation of this study was the possible misclassification of death data for those caused by accidental injury.  Another limitation was that the firearm ownership data used was from 2004, and the data may have changed over time.

Click to read the study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine

Relevant Reading: Living and dying in the U.S.A.: Sociodemographic determinants of death among blacks and whites

In-Depth [surveillance study]: Researchers used data from the WONDER (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research) database of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to obtain data for homicide and suicide.  Age-adjusted data between 2008 and 2016 was collected for all states and the District of Columbia for non-Hispanic black and white men.  Data for firearm ownership was collected from 2004 data from the National Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which is an annual telephone survey.  Using data from these sources, the authors calculated absolute rates and differences in rates for homicides (both caused and not caused by firearms) for non-Hispanic black and white men.  The study data included 84 113 homicides and 251 772 suicides for the 9-year study period.  Compared to white males, black males had between 9 and 57 more deaths caused by firearms per 100 000 per year.  Black males in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania had over 40 more homicides caused by firearms per 100 000 per year.  White males had between 2 less and 16 additional suicides caused by firearms per 100 000 per year.

The greatest differences for such deaths were seen in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico, and the smallest differences were seen in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia. The authors also evaluated if any relationship was present between homicide or suicide and gun ownership prevalence by state.  For white males, they found that states with lower, middle, and higher reported gun ownership had corresponding lower, middle, and higher levels of homicide and suicide caused by firearms.  For black males, states with lower reported gun ownership had lower levels of homicide and suicide caused by firearms.  Despite medium levels of gun ownership, black males had the highest levels of firearm homicides in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.  Southern states with high levels of gun ownership had higher rates of homicides among black males than those with medium levels of gun ownership.

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