Deaths from Guns: Homicide Rates Drop, But Suicide Rises

handguns (Image credit: Creative Commons | Joshuashearn)

Rates of gun homicide have declined in recent years in U.S. cities, but rates of suicide by firearm are on the rise, according to a new report.

Between 2009 and 2010, the rate of gun homicide in that nation's 50 most populous metropolitan areas was 4.3 homicides per 100,000 people, down from 5.2 per 100,000 people in years 2006 to 2007, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decline in gun homicides in U.S. cities mirrors a decline in the country as a whole — nationally, the gun homicide rate declined from 4.2 homicides per 100,000 people to 3.7 homicides per 100,000 people over the same time period. Much of the national decline can be attributed to the cities' decline, the report said.

In contrast, rates of suicide by firearm have increased in metropolitan areas — rising from 5.1 suicides per 100,000 people between 2006 and 2007, to 5.4 per 100,000 people between 2009 and 2010. Over the same time period, the national suicide rate rose from 6.5 per 100,000 to 7.0 per 100,000, the report said. [See Top 10 Leading Causes of Death].

The highest rate of gun homicides was in the New Orleans - Metairie area of Louisiana, which had 19.0 gun homicides per 100,000 people. The city with the lowest rate was in the San Diego/Carlsbad in California, with 1.1 gun homicides per 100,000 people.

The city with the highest rate of suicide by firearm was the Las Vegas/Henderson/Paradise area, with 11.4 per 100,000 people, and the lowest was the New York/Newark/Jersey City area, with 1.6 per 100,000 people.

Homicide rates have been declining in the United States over the last two decades. Factors that may have influenced this decline include shifting demographics, law enforcement response to gun violence and increased incarceration rates, the report says.

Some experts say the decrease in gun homicides can be attributed, in part, to improved medical treatments that decrease the death rate from gunshots, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.

Suicide rates, especially among middle-age adults, have been linked with business cycles, the CDC report says. The report notes that national unemployment rates doubled between 2006 and 2010. A report released in May found that suicide rates had increased 28 percent among U.S. adults ages 35 to 64 over the last decade.

Strategies to reduce gun violence and suicide include: promoting safe storage of guns, designing firearms to be safer, implementing background checks to prevent high risk people (such as those convicted of violent crimes) from possessing firearms, and improving schools, neighborhoods and communities in ways that reduce the likelihood of violence, the report says.

The report is published this week in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.