News Release

Life expectancy for blacks in US driven down by guns

Columbia University Professors contribute to new research on the racial disparities in firearm-related life expectancy loss

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

(NEW YORK) December 13, 2018--Young black Americans are two times more likely to die from firearms than whites, according to a new study published in BMJ Evidence-Base Medicine. Columbia University Professors Charles Branas and Jeffrey Fagan contributed to the study, which is among the first to evaluate firearm injury deaths based on life expectancy and quantify the magnitude of years lost among black and white Americans.

"Our results point out the glaring and long under-recognized gap between white and black Americans in terms of life expectancy years lost due to assault and suicide from firearms, said Charles Branas, PhD, Gelman Endowed Professor and Chair of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and co-author. "What the data show help us understand the magnitude of the problem and can inform more precise prevention programs."

The lead researchers from Boston University sused data from the Centers for Disease Control from 2000 to 2016 to calculate life expectancy loss due to firearm deaths. They found the overall life expectancy loss was 4.14 years greater for Black Americans versus a 2.23 year-loss for whites-and driven by substantially higher homicide rates among blacks up to age 20, in particular. The researchers also reported that suicides occurred mainly among older whites contributing to a relatively lower life expectancy loss while assaults occurring among young black Americans contributed to a substantial life expectancy loss.

"Our work shows that the inequalities that separate black and white Americans in several indicia of health extend to life and death itself. The gap in firearm mortality rates suggest that policies to regulate firearms have uneven effects, and uneven failures, " said co-author Jeffrey Fagan, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. "The evidence points to the need to develop policies specifically to protect those at greatest risk for lost years."

Bindu Kalesan, PhD, MPH, first author and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and community health services at Boston University School of Public Health, said the study "shines a light on the magnitude of the problem in terms of how many years of life are lost due to guns, and there is an impervious gap between white and black Americans that has been left to grow. We hope that as much as gun ownership is a constitutional right, there should be an awareness regarding the burden of death due to guns and action to prevent these deaths."


Co-authors are Yi Zuo and Mrithyunjay Vyliparambil, Boston University School of Medicine; Jeffrey Siracuse, College of Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts, and Sandro Galea, Boston University School of Public Health.

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health  

Founded in 1922, the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Columbia Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Columbia Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers, including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit  

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