Firearms have overtaken car crashes as the main cause of premature deaths due to trauma in the United States since 2017, according to a recent study. The study published in the journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open says that men made up more than 85 per cent of premature firearm deaths in 2018.
It also mentioned that firearm suicides were highest in older white men, and firearm homicides highest in young black men.
The study finds traumatic injuries as the leading cause of death in the US for people up to 46 years of age, with car crashes the single largest cause of premature death.
Firearm deaths, however, have been steadily increasing over the past decade, and the researchers wanted to find out if these have become the leading cause of premature death associated with trauma.
The researchers analysed data from annual National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR) for the years 2009 to 2018, the latest year for which data were available, and death certificates for each of the US states. A database of firearm related deaths was generated using these annual reports, while potential years of life lost were calculated by subtracting the age at death from the standard age of 80. These firearm deaths were further stratified according to age, gender, injury intent, and geographical region-North, South, Midwest, and West-and compared with those for car crashes.
The researchers noted that the total 10-year cumulative years of potential life lost for car crashes and firearms added up to 12.9 million and 12.6 million, respectively. However, firearm deaths surpassed those of car crashes as the leading cause of traumatic death in 2017, with 1.44 million years of potential life lost compared to 1.37 million. This trend continued into 2018, with 83,037 more potential years of life lost attributed to firearms than to car crashes.
Between 2009 and 2018, the annual percentage change in firearm deaths increased by 0.72 every year, while the annual percentage change in car crash deaths fell by 0.07 every year.
It mentioned that firearm suicides increased throughout the 10-year study period. They accounted for 18,735 trauma deaths in 2009, rising to 24,432 in 2018, and a parallel increase in potential years of life lost, rising from 571,720 to 741,869 in 2018. Firearm homicides also increased, rising from 11,493 deaths in 2009 to 13,958 in 2018, equivalent to 633,656 years of potential life lost in 2018, up from 554,260 in 2009.
Firearm deaths inflicted by the police or other law enforcement agents in the line of duty remained relatively static, with 333 deaths in 2009 and 539 in 2018.
The report mentioned that men made up most of the 38,929 firearm deaths in 2018, accounting for 33,258 (85+%). It also said that firearm suicides were highest among white men in 2018, comprising nearly half (49%) of total firearm deaths, with those among the over 45s 46% higher than among the under 45s. Firearm homicides were highest among black men, comprising 18% of all firearm deaths.
Cumulatively, white men lost a total of 4.95 million potential life years due to firearm suicide over the 10-year period, equal to more than a third of the total for all firearm deaths, and more than double the figure attributable to firearm homicide: 17 million. When looking at black men, the report records a cumulative total of 3.2 million, compared with 0.4 million due to firearm suicide. Most firearm homicide deaths were among 15-24 year olds.
While the cumulative figure of potential years of life lost due to firearm homicide was lower among black men than those attributable to firearm suicide among white men, the younger age at which black men died increased the total for each demon average. Firearm homicides among black men accounted for 50.5 years of potential life lost compared with just over 29 for firearm suicide among white men.
The report finds that white women lost a total of 1.3 million potential years of life to firearm deaths throughout the study period. Over half of this was firearm suicides, the report added. It said that firearm suicides among women increased by 31.5% over the 10 year period; homicides rose by just under 10%. Black women lost more potential years of life to firearm homicide than to firearm suicide.
The South had the highest cumulative total of potential years of life lost due to firearms (5,7 million), followed by the Midwest and the West. The Northeast had the lowest cumulative total: 35,789 years of life lost. Official data show that in 2018 there were over 3 million registered firearms in the South, with Texas and Florida the two states with the highest number of registrations in the US. The researchers acknowledge that the current average life expectancy in the US is 78.7 years, rather than 80, which they used for their calculations.