Guns pass car crashes as main cause of premature trauma deaths in U.S., data shows

VALHALLA, N.Y. — Gun violence has overtaken car crashes as the main cause of premature trauma deaths in the U.S., a new study reveals. Traumatic injuries remain the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people up to the age of 46, with car crashes previously the single largest cause of premature death, researchers report. But gun killings – either as suicides or murder – have been steadily rising over the past decade.

As a result researchers wanted to find out if these have become the leading cause of premature death linked with trauma. Researchers analyzed figures from annual National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR) for the years 2009 to 2018, the latest year for which data was available. They also looked at death certificates for each state.

A database of firearm-related deaths was generated using these annual reports, while potential years of life lost was calculated by subtracting the age at death from the standard age of 80. These firearm deaths were further formed according to age, gender, injury, geographical region and compared with those for car crashes.

During this period, the total 10-year cumulative years of potential life lost for car crashes and firearms added up to 12.9 million and 12.6 million, respectively. According to the data, men accounted for more than 85% of premature gun deaths. Firearm suicides were especially higher in older white men, comprising an alarming 49 percent of all firearm-related deaths. Gun murders were highest among young black men, taking 18 percent of the total.

Firearm 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 study reveals. This trend continued into 2018, with 83,037 more potential years of life lost attributed to firearms than to car crashes.

Gun deaths rising each year, while fatal car collisions falling

Between 2009 and 2018, the annual percentage change in firearm deaths increased by 0.72 every year, while the annual percentage change in car crash deaths fell by 0.07 every year, the experts discovered.

“Suicide is responsible for the most, in terms of years of potential life lost, due to firearm deaths, and continues to increase in the USA at an alarming rate,” the authors write. “The predominant populations that are affected by firearm deaths are older white males to suicide, and younger black males to homicide. 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.”

Analysis of injury intent show that firearm suicides increased throughout the 10-year study period. They accounted for 18,735 trauma deaths in 2009, rising to 24,432 in 2018, and a parallel increase in potential years of life lost, rising from 571,720 to 741,869 in 2018.

Firearm homicides also increased, rising from 11,493 deaths in 2009 to 13,958 in 2018, equivalent to 633,656 years of potential life lost in 2018, up from 554,260 in 2009. Firearm deaths inflicted by the police or other law enforcement agents in the line of duty increased with 333 deaths in 2009 and 539 in 2018.

Men made up most of the 38,929 firearm deaths in 2018, accounting for 33,258, or more than 85 percent.

Ethnicity, gender, regional comparisons

A breakdown of ethnicity shows that firearm suicides were highest among white men in 2018, comprising nearly half – 49 percent – of total firearm deaths, with those among the over-45s a staggering 46 percent higher than among the under 45s. Cumulatively, white men lost a total of 4.95 million potential life years due to firearm suicide over the 10 year period, equal to more than a third of the total for all firearm deaths, and more than double the figure attributable to firearm homicide at 1.7 million.

Firearm murders were highest among black men, comprising 18 percent of all firearm deaths, scientists say. Black men lost the most potential life years due to homicide: a cumulative total of 3.2 million, compared with 0.4 million due to firearm suicide.

Most firearm homicide deaths were among 15 to 24 year olds, the data shows.

While the cumulative figure of potential years of life lost due to firearm homicide was lower among black men than those attributable to firearm suicide among white men, the younger age at which black men died increased the total for each death.

On average, firearm homicides among black men accounted for 50.5 years of potential life lost compared with just over 29 for firearm suicide among white men.

White women lost a total of 1.3 million potential years of life to firearm deaths throughout the study period, over half of which were firearm suicides. Firearm suicides among women increased by 31.5 per cent over the 10 year period; homicides rose by just under 10 pe cent. Black women lost more potential years of life to firearm homicide than to firearm suicide.

“Traumatic injuries remain the leading cause of death in the USA for individuals up to the age of 46 years. The epidemiology for trauma, causes of death, and injury has been dynamic in the USA as it continually evolves with society and technological changes,” the authors write. “Motor vehicle crashes MVCs have been the single largest cause of death and have been responsible for the most years of potential life lost (YPLL) due to trauma. Firearm deaths, however, have been increasing during the last decade based on the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Regionally, the South had the highest cumulative total of potential years of life lost due to firearms (5.7 million), followed by the Midwest and the West. The Northeast had the lowest cumulative total: 35,789 years of life lost. Official data shows that in 2018 there were over 3 million registered firearms in the South, with Texas and Florida the two states with the highest number of registrations in the US.

The researchers acknowledge that the current average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.7 years, rather than 80, which they used for their calculations. But the trend in premature trauma deaths associated with firearms is clear, they note.

The research is published online in the journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.

Article written by South West News Service writer Chris Dyer.