Nov. 18, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Violence is increasingly haunting the national psyche, as seemingly more people let loose their inner demons by killing co-workers or classmates. But a new report released Thursday by the CDC shows firearm-related violence in the U.S. is actually declining by dramatic amounts.
The report documented the number of firearm-related injuries and deaths in the U.S. during the five-year period from 1993 to 1997. The yearly rate of non-fatal firearm injuries decreased 40.8%, from 40.5 people to 24 people per 100,000 in 1993. Firearm-related deaths during the same time period dropped 21.1%, from 15.4 deaths to 12.1 deaths per 100,000.
"The interesting thing is we found the drop not only in assaultive injuries, but also across the board," Lee Annest, PhD, the chief statistician for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, tells WebMD. "We found that the decline was consistent across different subgroups in the population by sex, race, ethnicity, age, and everything, too. ... It's not the same drop for each group, but it's in the same direction, and many of them are statistically significant, so we're encouraged by that."
The overall declines mirror a 21% decrease in violent crime over the same period. As for the apparent rise in school and workplace shootings, they may be a statistically small part of these totals, but that does not downplay their significance. "Those school-related incidents make up a very small proportion of the overall problem, they make up less than 1%,'' Annest tells WebMD. "These little things that are popping up are very disturbing, and really show that we still have a serious problem, a public health concern here, it's almost like a little epidemic that's occurring. So we really need to understand those problems and learn how to address them."
For the high-risk age group of 15-24, Annest says fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries did decline significantly from 1993 to 1995, with most of the injuries occurring among males.
Annest says more study needs to be done to determine what caused the declines. He says there are likely many contributing factors, listing the healthy economy, the aging population, a decline in the 'crack' cocaine market, changes in the laws and law-enforcement, and community-based violence prevention programs.
One aspect of the report is very puzzling to the researchers, though: the drop in suicides. Annest tells WebMD, "We really don't know what's going on there. ... The thing you've got to realize about the suicide rate is it's been pretty flat for several decades -- there hasn't been much of a change at all in firearm suicides -- so all of a sudden in '93 they're starting to head down. ... That's what's impressive: all these years it's been quite stable and all of a sudden we're starting to see a decline in suicide overall."
Unintentional fatal firearm injuries continued to decline, as they have consistently done since 1950, which may be attributed to legislation, the proportion of people using guns for recreational purposes, and information and safety programs, says Annest.
Keeping the statistics in perspective, though, about 96,000 people sustained gunshot wounds in 1997, and about one-third of them were fatal. Although the report doesn't detail what kinds of guns caused the wounds, "these are not BB gun wounds," says Annest. Gun-related fatalities in 1997 in the U.S. were second only to motor vehicle related incidents in death due to injury, and on the same level as suicide, eighth overall.
But Annest says, "It's good that we're making progress, I think the prevention efforts that we have in place through public health, criminal justice, and education programs seem to be collectively having an impact, and we ought to continue them."
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