Guns have overtaken car crashes as the leading cause of premature death from trauma in the United States, a new study finds.
It also showed that gun suicides are highest in older white men, while gun homicides are highest in young Black men.
"Suicide is responsible for the most [years of potential life lost] due to firearm deaths, and continues to increase in the USA at an alarming rate," lead researcher Dr. Joshua Klein, from Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., and colleagues wrote.
Traumatic injuries are the leading cause of premature death in the United States for people up to the age of 46, and car crashes have long been the single largest cause of premature death. But gun deaths have been steadily increasing over the past decade, so researchers wondered if gun deaths have eclipsed auto accidents.
To find out, they analyzed data from annual National Vital Statistics Reports from 2009 to 2018, the latest year for which data were available, as well as death certificates from each U.S. state.
During the 10-year study period, the total cumulative years of potential life lost for car crashes and guns were 12.9 million and 12.6 million, respectively. But gun 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.
The trend continued into 2018, with gun deaths accounting for about 83,000 more potential years of life lost than car crashes.
While gun deaths went up, car crash deaths went down: Between 2009 and 2018, the annual percentage change in gun deaths increased by 0.72 every year, while the annual percentage change in car crash deaths fell by 0.07 every year.
The study also found that suicides by gun rose through study period. They accounted for more than 18,700 trauma deaths in 2009, rising to over 24,400 in 2018. Gun-related homicides also increased, rising from nearly 11,500 in 2009 to almost 14,000 in 2018.
Men accounted for most (85%) of the nearly 39,000 firearm deaths in 2018.
In 2018, white men accounted for 49% of gun suicides, and the rate was 46% higher among those older than 45 than those younger than 45.
Gun homicides were highest among Black men, accounting for 18% of all gun deaths. Black men lost the most potential life years due to homicide during the study period (3.2 million). Most gun homicide deaths were among victims ages 15-24.
Women were not spared from gun deaths, either.
White women lost a total of 1.3 million potential years of life to gun deaths over the study period, and more than half were gun suicides. Gun suicides among women increased by 31.5% over the study period and gun homicides rose by just under 10%. Black women lost more potential years of life to gun homicide than to gun suicide.
Regionally, the South had the highest cumulative total of potential years of life lost due to guns (5.7 million), followed by the Midwest and the West.
The study was published online Feb. 22 in the journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.
"More resources should be redirected and allocated to these at-risk populations to decrease this potentially preventable cause of death and years of life lost," Klein said in a journal news release.
For more on harm caused by guns, see the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
SOURCE: Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open, news release, Feb. 22, 2022