Gun violence remains a significant public health problem. Although gun violence prevention efforts mostly target homicides, nationally, two-thirds of all firearm deaths are suicides. The purpose of this study was to define patterns of firearm-related deaths and examine the effect of population size.
All firearm-related deaths in the US between 1999 and 2016 were analyzed. Homicides and suicides were obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, respectively, comprising the database. For each state, the largest metropolitan city by population and a corresponding small urban city were selected. Firearm-related deaths were stratified by type and city size and compared. Rates of firearm-related homicides and suicides per 1 million population were stratified by year and compared over time using simple linear regression.
544,749 firearm-related deaths occurred across the US over the study period (38% homicides, 62% suicides). The median rate of firearm-related suicides was significantly greater than firearm-related homicides regardless of city size and across the US. Linear regression analysis failed to identify a significant change in the rate of firearm-related homicides over the study period. However, the rate of firearm-related suicides increased significantly regardless of city size between 1999 and 2016.
Although homicides account for the majority of firearm-related deaths in metropolitan areas, suicides constitute a disproportionate number in smaller urban areas. Although the rate of homicides has stabilized, the rate of firearm-related suicides continues to increase significantly, underscoring the need for better direct prevention efforts and public health policy.