Given the fresh horror of high-profile mass shootings, including Wednesday night's tragedy in Thousand Oaks, California, it certainly feels like gun-related homicides are on the rise. Sadly, according to a new study, that intuitive take is entirely accurate.
The study reports that, after declining for a decade or so, the number of homicides involving firearms increased significantly during the most recent reporting period, the years 2015 and 2016. "Rates have returned to levels comparable to those observed during 2006–07," writes a research team led by Scott Kegler of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"During 2015–2016, homicide was the 16th leading cause of death among persons of all ages in the United States and the third leading cause among youths aged 10–19 years," the researchers write in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "A firearm injury was the underlying cause of death in 74 percent of all homicides and in 87 percent of youth homicides. Previously observed decreases in firearm homicide rates have not continued, with more recent rates showing an increase both nationally and in large [metropolitan areas]."
Specifically, firearm-related homicides increased in 43 of the top 50 metro areas between 2013–14 and 2015–16. The rate of these tragedies varies enormously by location: The lowest was in the region around Providence, Rhode Island, while the highest was in metropolitan New Orleans.
Meanwhile, firearm-related suicides continued their steady increase, with nearly 45,000 reported in 2015–16—a number that far exceeds the 27,394 firearm-related homicides. Over that period, "suicide was the 10th leading cause of death nationally among all persons [over] 10 years, and the second leading cause among youths," the researchers report. "A firearm injury was the underlying cause of death in 50 percent of all suicides."
As in the past, firearm-related homicide rates were generally higher in metropolitan areas, and especially in big cities, while firearm-related suicide rates were higher in rural areas. Eighty-five percent of acts in both categories were committed by males.
The researchers do not speculate on the reasons behind the spike in homicides, which, they note, could be either a "short-term fluctuation, or the beginning of a longer-term trend."
But they add that, while such programs need further study, "efforts to strengthen the background-check system to better identify persons convicted of violent crimes, or at risk for harming themselves or others, might prevent lethal firearm violence."