Gang Violence Decline Credited With Drop in California Gun Deaths

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Gang graffiti, Oakland California. Photo by STILSAYN via Flickr

Firearm homicide rates in California have dramatically declined since the mid-2000s in urban areas in California, but the decline was undercut by a rise in rural areas, according to a new study.

One of the major drivers of the decline was a decline in gang violence, especially among Hispanic men, the study said, though it added Hispanic men are still the group with the highest death toll in Los Angeles County.

For urban counties in general, the decline in homicide rates was “driven by reductions in homicides in Los Angeles County among men of color,” researchers said.

In what was described as the first examination of gun deaths in California in over three decades. the study conducted by the University of California’s Davis Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP), also found an increase in suicides by firearms–with the greatest increase in rural counties.

Statewide, the biggest decline in firearm homicide was among black men, from a rate of 47 deaths per 100,000 in 2005 to 31 deaths per 100,000 in 2015, a 32 percent decline.

Even so, the study authors noted, “The homicide rate for black men (in California) is 4.5 times the rate of Hispanic men, the group at the next highest level of risk.”

The study, which will be published in the May issue of Annals of Epidemiology, was conducted at the county level using California’s Multiple Cause of Death database. Researchers evaluated 50,921 firearm deaths between 2000 and 2015 in order to “describe changes across time and across the populations throughout the state.”

The study’s authors include Veronica Pear, Alvaro Castillo-Carniglia, Rose M.C. Kagawa, Magdalena Cerdá, and Garen J. Wintemute, all of the UC Davis VPRP.

Los Angeles County alone experienced a particularly steep decline of 54 percent in its rate of firearm homicides between 2002 and 2015.

However, even though one of the study’s authors, Veronica Pear, traces the fall in homicides in urban counties to a decline in gang violence, especially among Hispanic men, Hispanic men are still the group with the highest death toll in Los Angeles County.

The causes for the decline in gang violence remain ambiguous, and Pear suggested it should be the subject of future research.

But the picture of declining gun deaths in urban areas has brought added attention to California’s rural counties, which were experiencing the state’s highest firearm homicide rates by 2015.

In addition, firearm suicides were found to be three times higher in rural counties, and were highest among white men in their 50s.

“White men over the age 80 had nearly 30 times the number of firearm suicides than Hispanic men, the only other racial or ethnic group with counts large enough to report.”

Across the state, white men and women, combined, were found to have a suicide rate six times higher than any other ethnic or racial group. Firearm suicide rates among men were 8.5 times higher for men than for women.

The paper’s authors wrote they hoped their findings could be used to help public health practitioners develop “targeted interventions,’ and persuade policymakers to allocate more resources to such work, as well as for additional research into the “factors that contribute to firearm violence.”

The full study, entitled “Firearm Mortality in California, 2000-2015: The Epidemiologic Importance of Within-State Variation,” can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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