Racial Recoil

Gun violence disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities

Published on May 6, 2014 by Dana March

According to a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, homicides involving guns in the United States decreased 39 percent between 1993 and 2011, from 18,253 to 11,101. Similarly, nonfatal gun-related crimes fell by over 58 percent between 1993 and 2011, from 1.5 million to 467,300.

Black Americans experienced a 51 percent decline in gun-related homicides between 1993 and 2010, from 30.1 per 100,000 to 14.6 per 100,000. Similarly, gun-related homicides for whites decreased by 48 percent from 1993 to 2010.  However, in 2010, gun-related homicides among blacks were nearly eight times higher than that of whites.

Colleagues at Global Research Analytics for Population Health (GRAPH) of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health recently published a series of striking data bytes, featured here. Together, they tell a more nuanced story about the social fault lines along which gun violence occurs in the United States.

First, according to data from 2010, non-Hispanic blacks lose an overwhelmingly greater number of years of life from gun-related homicides compared to any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

Second, non-Hispanic black men and women in the U.S. lose more years of life every year from gun-related homicides, while non-Hispanic whites men and women lose more years of life from firearm-related suicides.

Finally, between 2000 and 2010, the years of life lost from firearm-related homicides among men have remained virtually unchanged in the United States. Most notably, however, both blacks and Hispanics experience a disproportionate burden of years of life lost compared to whites, with black men living overwhelmingly shortened lives.

Race and firearm deaths


firearm homicide and suicide


trends in racial firearm homicide rates


Despite the reduction of gun-related crime in the United States between 1993 and 2011, a survey by the Pew Research Center indicates that only 12 percent of Americans believe that crime involving firearms has declined. And racial and ethnic minority adults are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to say gun-related crime has risen.

Indeed, as the stunning GRAPH data bytes illustrate, different racial and ethnic groups in the United States uniquely experience gun-related crimes and their racial recoil.

A scene from the final season of HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire powerfully captures an ethos regarding race and homicide in the United States:

McNulty  Guy leaves two dozen bodies scattered all over the city, and no one gives a f*ck.

Freamon  It’s cause who he dropped.

Bunk  True dat. You can go a long way in this country killing black folk. Young males especially. Misdemeanor homicides.

McNulty  If Marlo was killing white women . . .

Freamon  White children . . .

Bunk  Tourists . . .

McNulty  One white ex-cheerleader tourist missing in Aruba.

Bunk  Trouble is, this ain’t Aruba, b*tch!

Freamon  You think that if 300 white people were killed in this city every year, they wouldn’t send the 82nd Airborne? Negro, please.

McNulty  There’s gotta be some way to make ’em turn on the faucet.

The political faucet has not been turned on, despite clear population level data. Meanwhile, minority groups in the United States are drowning in tears shed over the loss of loved ones at the hand of guns.

Dana March
Dana March, Editor-in-Chief of the2x2project, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Her research addresses the ways in which our social lives and where we live shape population health and how we respond to interventions. She has particular interests in urbanization and the social fault lines of health, like race and class. March has written for Newsweek and her work has been featured in Scientific American. She is a 2014-15 Public Voices Fellow at Columbia University Medical Center. Follow her on Twitter @Dana_March. Email her at dm2025@columbia.edu.

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