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‘A public health crisis’: Young Black men, teens made up 37% of gun homicide victims in 2019, CDC data shows

Nada Hassanein

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Michael Franti and The GLIDE Ensemble surprises mom with memory of her son

No mother should have to experience what Mattie Scott did when she lost her son to gun violence. But she found strength to carry on with the help of Michael Franti & Spearhead’s song, “The Flower,” (featuring Victoria Canal).

Humankind, USA TODAY

Young Black men and teens made up more than a third of firearm homicide victims in the U.S. in 2019. The finding was just one of several disparities revealed in a review of 2019 gun mortality data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The analysis, released Tuesday and titled “A Public Health Crisis in the Making,” found that although Black men and boys in that age group – 15 to 34 – make up just 2% of the nation’s population, they were among 37% of gun homicides that year.

That’s 20 times higher than white males of the same age group.

Of all reported firearm homicides in 2019, more than half of victims were Black men, according to the study spearheaded by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. And 63% of male victims were Black.

The contrast is even more stark when the rates were compared to white people: Across all ages, Black men were nearly 14 times more likely to die in a firearm homicide than white men, and eight times more likely to die in a firearm homicide than the general population, including women. 

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Black women and girls are also at higher risk. Black females had the highest risk of being killed by a firearm than females of any other race or ethnicity, and were four times more likely to be victims than white females.

“Gun violence has for the longest time been a public health crisis in the Black community,” said epidemiologist Ed Clark of Florida A&M University’s Institute of Public Health.

The gun violence expert said a “holistic approach” is needed to reduce gun fatalities and injuries.

“That should include really viewing gun violence as a public health issue. The business of public health is population wellness – looking at how we can decrease the disease burden or the threat of injury to the population at large,” he said. “And gun violence is definitely a problem that should be looked at through that lens.”

After Black males and females, American Indian and Alaska Natives were the next highest-risk group, according to the analysis, followed by Latino and Hispanic people.

Ahmaud Arbery was killed at 25: A year later, Black men who see themselves in him mourn his loss.

Most of children and teens up to age 19 who died that year died by firearm, the study found – 1 in 10 of deaths in that age group. That’s the second-highest total in two decades.

Evidence suggests gun homicides rose “dramatically” last year during the pandemic, the authors said, but because of what they argued is a lack of timely data, “we won’t know the full scale of the problem for many months to come.”

The emerging data also suggests, the authors wrote, that suicides among Black people rose disproportionately. Still, the study found the majority of all suicide deaths by firearm, 73%, were white males. White men were more than twice as likely to die by a firearm suicide than others.

Sixty percent of all firearm deaths in 2019 were suicides. In total, 39,707 people died from gun violence that year.

“Despite the limitations, gun death data are the most reliable type of gun violence data currently available – but gun deaths are only the tip of the iceberg of gun violence. Many more people are shot and survive their injuries, are shot at but not hit, or witness gun violence,” commentary on the analysis reads. “Many experience gun violence in other ways, by living in impacted communities, losing loved ones to gun violence, or being threatened with a gun.”

Reach Nada Hassanein at or on Twitter @nhassanein_.

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