Aggregating ten years of data on the state level allowed a more detailed analysis of firearm mortality in West Virginia by age, race, gender, and county. Aggregated state data from 1985 through 1994 were compared to national data from 1990.

There were 2,859 firearm-related deaths(1) in West Virginia during the ten-year period from 1985 through 1994. Of these, 65.4% (1,869) were due to suicide. Homicides accounted for 28.8% (822), while 4.5% (128) were unintentional and 1.4% (40) were undetermined. Of the 36,814 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 1990, 51.2% (18,885) were suicides, 44.0% (16,218) were homicides, 3.8% (1,416) were unintentional, and 0.9% (347) were undetermined. Figure 12 compares the distribution of firearm-related deaths in West Virginia and the United States.

West Virginia's total adjusted firearm-related death rate(2) from 1985-94 was 16.0 deaths per 100,000 population, 8.1% higher than the comparable 1990 U.S. rate of 14.8. The male rate for total firearm-related deaths in the state was 27.8 deaths per 100,000 male population, compared to 25.9 nationwide. The state rate for total firearm-related deaths among females was 4.8 deaths per 100,000 female population, compared to 4.2 in the nation as a whole. Figure 13 presents a comparison of firearm-related mortality rates by gender for West Virginia and the United States.

Unintentional. The overall rate of unintentional firearm mortality in West Virginia was slightly higher than the national rate (0.7 vs. 0.6). The rate among state males, however, was 40.0% higher than that among all U.S. males, 1.4 compared to 1.0. The number of unintentional firearm-related deaths among females in West Virginia over the ten-year period was too small to allow comparisons.

Suicide. The overall firearm-related suicide rate in West Virginia was 10.3 deaths per 100,000 population, 35.5% higher than the national rate of 7.6. Rates for suicides due to firearms were higher in the state for both sexes. The rate among males was 18.5, compared to a U.S. rate of 13.4; the rate among females was 2.4, compared to 2.0 nationwide.

There were a total of 2,451 suicides in West Virginia from 1985-94; of these, 83.1% (2,037) were male. Of the 1,869 suicides due to firearms, 88.0% (1,644) involved male victims (Figure 14). Nationally, males accounted for 80.0% (24,724) of total suicides (30,906) and 86.2% (16,285) of firearm-related suicides (18,885) in 1990.

Homicide. The overall rate for firearm-related homicides in West Virginia was 26.2% lower than the national rate, 4.8 deaths per 100,000 population compared to 6.5. By gender, however, a lower state rate was found only among males (7.5 vs. 10.9). The state rate among females was 15.0% higher than the national average (2.3 vs. 2.0).

In West Virginia, 72.3% (848) of total homicides (1,173) and 74.9% (616) of firearm-related homicides (822) from 1985-94 involved males (Figure 15). In the United States, 78.2% (18,992) of total homicide victims (24,296) and 84.0% (13,629) of firearm-related homicide victims (16,218) in 1990 were male.

Firearm-Related Deaths by Race and Gender

While West Virginia's total firearm-related mortality rate was 8.1% higher than the U.S. rate, the state rate among whites only was 24.0% higher than that among whites nationally (16.0 deaths per 100,000 white population vs. 12.9) (Table 11). The state rate among blacks only, on the other hand, was 18.0% lower than the national average for the black population (27.4 deaths per 100,000 black population vs. 33.4). The rate of overall firearm-related mortality among white males in West Virginia was 27.4 (deaths per 100,000 white males), compared to 22.4 among white males in the nation as a whole. The overall firearm-related mortality rate among the state's black males was 51.0 (deaths per 100,000 black males); nationwide, the corresponding rate was 61.9. Figures 16 and 17 illustrate state and national comparisons of firearm-related mortality rates for white and black males. No comparisons are available for females by race due to the small numbers of deaths among black females from 1985-94.

Unintentional. White males were more likely to be the victim of an unintentional firearm death in the state than in the nation (1.4 vs. 1.0). Unintentional firearm death rates were too low among black males and all females to allow valid comparisons with national data.

Suicide. West Virginia's overall rate of firearm-related suicide was 35.5% higher than the U.S. rate (10.3 vs. 7.6). There were higher rates of firearm-related suicide among the white population than among the black population both state and nationwide. The rate of firearm-related suicide among whites in West Virginia, however, was 23.0% higher than that among the white population nationwide (10.7 vs. 8.7), while the state rate among blacks was 66.7% higher than the comparable U.S. rate (7.0 vs. 4.2). White males in the state had a rate of suicide due to firearms that was 26.1% higher than that among their counterparts nationally (19.3 vs. 15.3); the state rate among white females was 8.7% higher than the corresponding U.S. rate (2.5 vs. 2.3). The greatest difference in rates by race, however, was noted among black males in West Virginia; the state rate of 13.6 among this population was 74.4% higher than the national rate of 7.8.

Homicide. West Virginia's overall rate for firearm-related homicides from 1985-94 was 26.2% lower than the 1990 U.S. rate (4.8 vs. 6.5). Blacks were more likely than whites to be victims of firearm-related homicide on both the state and national levels. Among whites only, however, the rate was 18.9% higher in the state than in the nation as a whole (4.4 vs. 3.7); among blacks only, it was 29.7% lower (19.9 vs. 28.3). The firearm-related homicide rate among white males in the state was 6.6, compared to 6.0 among white males nationwide. The state rate among black males was 36.2, compared to a U.S. rate of 52.6.

Firearm-Related Deaths by Age and Gender

When examined by age, the total firearm-related death rate was higher in the state than in the nation for every age group except among persons aged 15-24 (Figure 18). This pattern was found to hold for males only; for females only, lower rates were also found among ages 0-14 and 75+. Table 12 presents comparisons of firearm-related mortality rates by age and gender.

Unintentional. By age, the highest rates of unintentional firearm mortality in both the state and the nation were reported among young males aged 15-24 (2.9 and 2.4, respectively). (Only rates among males are addressed in the analysis of unintentional firearm deaths by age because the number of such deaths among females in the state was too low for valid comparison.) Rates generally decreased from ages 25 through 74, after which they increased somewhat both state- and nationwide. Higher-than-average rates of unintentional firearm-related mortality were found in West Virginia among all age groups except 55-74.

Suicide. Overall, state rates for suicide mortality due to firearms were higher than national rates for both sexes. In both West Virginia and the United States, the highest rates among men were found in the age groups over 65. Among women, the highest rates were recorded between the ages of 35 and 64.

Higher rates of firearm-related suicide were found in West Virginia than in the U.S. as a whole in every age group. Males in the state were more likely than those nationwide to be the victim of a firearm-related suicide in every age group; females were more likely at all ages under 65. While overall the state rate among males was 38.1% higher than the national rate, the West Virginia rate was 66.9% higher among males aged 25-34 (24.2 vs. 14.5) and 44.9% higher among males aged 35-44 (19.7 vs. 13.6). The greatest difference between rates for females was found among those aged 45-54; the state rate was 67.9% higher than the national one (4.7 vs. 2.8).

Homicide. Overall, the rate of firearm-related homicide mortality in West Virginia from 1985-94 was lower than 1990 U.S. rate for men and higher than the U.S. rate for women. By age only, the state rate was lower among all age groups through age 44 and 75 and older.

Among males, the highest rate of firearm-related homicides reported nationally was found among those aged 15-24; the U.S. rate of 26.9 for that age group was nearly three times the corresponding West Virginia rate (9.1). However, state rates exceeded national rates for all ages over 45. Among females, the state rates for firearm-related homicides were higher than U.S. rates for all age groups except the youngest (0-24) and the oldest (75+).

Firearm-Related Deaths by County

Table 13 presents the number of firearm-related deaths by county from 1985-94, with age- and sex-adjusted rates provided for comparison purposes. Given the wide range in the total number of deaths by county over that time period (from a high of 317 in Kanawha County to a low of 2 in Wirt County), counties were ranked using overall firearm mortality rates only. These 55 rates were split into terciles (upper third, middle third, and lower third) for illustrative purposes and are presented in Exhibit 1.

McDowell County reported the highest overall rate of mortality due to firearm injuries (39.3 deaths per 100,000 population), while Wirt County had the lowest rate (4.3). However, the highest rate of firearm-related suicide was found in Gilmer County (18.2), with the lowest recorded in Tucker County (2.3).

1. Does not include legal intervention.

2. West Virginia's total firearm-related mortality rates were adjusted by age and sex to the 1990 U.S. census population distribution. Sex-specific rates were age adjusted only. (See Appendix C: Technical Notes.)



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Health Statistics Center
Office of Epidemiology and Health Promotion
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health

Last updated 02/07/06