Public Release: 

Black Americans' life expectancy decreasing due to firearms

Overall loss was two times greater as compared to whites

Boston University School of Medicine

(Boston)-- While it is well known that gun deaths are a major public health problem, a new study quantifies the significance of substantially higher gun homicide rates in driving down life expectancy among black Americans.

"Understanding the life years lost by assault and suicide due to firearms among white and black Americans can help us understand the race specific and intent-specific firearm mortality burden and inform prevention programs," explained corresponding author Bindu Kalesan, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and assistant professor of community health services at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

Researchers from BUSM and BUSPH used 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 twice as high among blacks compared with whites (black Americans lost 4.14 years while white Americans lost 2.23 years) and is driven by substantially higher homicide rates among blacks up to age 20. "Interestingly, we also found that suicides occur mainly among older whites contributing to a relatively lower life expectancy loss while assaults occur among young black Americans contributing to a very large life expectancy loss."

The authors believe this is the first contemporary study to quantifying the magnitude of life expectancy loss at different age groups due to assault and suicide firearm mortality among black and white Americans.

"Our 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 carrying is a constitutional right, there should be an awareness regarding the burden of death due to guns and action to prevent these deaths."

A multi-disciplinary team of epidemiologists, trauma researchers, surgeons and biostatisticians from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the College of Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell, also contributed to this research project.

The findings appear online in BMJ Evidence-Base Medicine.


Funding for this study was provided by National Institute of Justice, Department of Justice, 2017-IJ-CX-0018.

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