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Gun Death Rates Higher In U.S. Rural Areas Than In Big Cities

Politicians and news media coverage have fueled a widespread belief that gun violence primarily affects urban areas. Researchers say that many rural Americans experience higher rates of gun death than their big-city counterparts. That’s the thrust of a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that firearm deaths are more likely to occur in small towns than in major cities. The authors analyzed 20 years of mortality data across a range of county types — from most rural to most urban — and found that the most rural counties had the highest rates of firearm deaths compared to the most urban counties, reports The Trace. The researchers found that, regardless of county type, firearms deaths increased markedly from 2011 to 2020 compared to the previous decade, primarily because of an increase in gun suicides.

“We felt like it was really important to point out that this isn’t simply a city problem,” said Charles Branas, the chair of epidemiology at Columbia University’s School of Public Health and one of the authors. “Gun deaths are a bigger problem in these small towns and rural areas.” Branas and colleagues found that, compared to the period between 2001 to 2010, when the overall firearm death rate in the most rural counties was nearly 25 percent higher than the most urban counties, that margin increased to nearly 40 percent between 2011 and 2020. In both time periods, rural counties experienced a significantly higher rate of gun suicides and a lower rate of gun homicides. The research builds on a study of gun deaths from 1989 through 1999, which found the risk of dying by gunshot was nearly the same in rural and urban areas. Branas said, "I do not want to minimize the risk that people face in cities, but I do think that what the data points out is that this is everybody’s problem, and that we all need to get together on the issue if we really are going to make a difference.”

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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