NEW YORK — Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die from gunshots than residents of large cities, according to new research. The findings reveal that, contrary to popular belief, firearm-related deaths in the United States are statistically more common in small towns than in cities with a reputation for having high rates of crime.
Furthermore, nationwide, gun suicides surpass gun homicides in frequency, with gun suicides being “largely responsible” for the increase in gun-related deaths over the past few decades, according to the study. Researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the University of California, Davis, conducted the analysis using two decades of U.S. mortality data.
“Our study has found that the divide in total intentional firearm deaths between urban and rural counties is increasing, with rural counties bearing more of the burden,” says co-author Dr. Paul Reeping from UC Davis in a media release.
“In the 2000s, the two most rural county types had statistically more firearm deaths per capita than any other county type, and by the 2010s, the most urban counties—cities—were the safest in terms of intentional firearm death risk,” the researcher continues. “Despite the pervasive nature of gun violence, high rates of gun homicide in urban centers have been the sole focus of many policymakers and used as justification to loosen gun laws, when in fact gun violence is an issue in counties of all sizes.”
The study, published in the journal JAMA Surgery, showed that gun suicides outnumber gun homicides each year in the U.S., and the risk of gun suicides in the most rural counties exceeds the risk of gun homicides in the most urban counties.
From 2001 to 2010, the two most rural counties had higher total firearm death rates than the most urban counties. The most rural counties experienced a 25-percent higher overall firearm death rate, a 54-percent higher gun suicide death rate, and a 50-percent lower gun homicide death rate compared to the most urban counties.
Previous research from the 1990s revealed no difference in total intentional firearm deaths between the most urban and rural counties during that decade. However, the new study found that the divide in total intentional firearm deaths between urban and rural counties has been increasing, with rural counties bearing “a great deal more” of the burden.
The researchers based their findings on an analysis of multiple cause-of-death data files from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Vital Statistics System over two decades, from the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2020.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.