III. TRENDS IN FIREARM-RELATED MORTALITY
WEST VIRGINIA AND THE UNITED STATES, 1970-1994
Point-in-time comparisons of firearm-related mortality rates in West Virginia and the United States, taken at five-year intervals from 1970 to 1990, and including 1994 as the most recent data available at the time of the study, show West Virginia's total firearm-related mortality rates(1) to be higher than those in the country as a whole for each year of the comparison except 1990 (Table 5 and Figure 8). Unintentional firearm death rates were higher in the state than in the nation for 1970 and 1975 but have been equal to or lower than the national rate for each year of the comparison since 1980. Suicide firearm death rates exceeded those for the U.S. as a whole throughout the comparison period, while homicide firearm mortality has consistently been lower in the state than in the nation.
Unintentional. Unintentional firearm-related mortality rates in the state did not differ markedly from national rates over the study period. A decline in unintentional deaths due to firearms occurred on both the state and national levels from 1970 to 1994 (Figure 9). The highest rate for the United States was recorded in 1970 (1.2 deaths per 100,000 population), while that for West Virginia was found in 1975 (1.6). The lowest rates for both the state and the nation were recorded in 1994 (0.5 and 0.6, respectively).
Suicide. Since 1970, total suicide rates have increased in West Virginia and decreased slightly in the United States (Table 6). The state's highest rate of total suicide over the study period (14.2 deaths per 100,000 population) was reported in 1994, while that for the nation (13.2) occurred in 1975. The rates of firearm-related suicide, however, have increased over time in both the state and the nation, with rates of 10.3 and 7.9 reported in West Virginia and the United States, respectively, in 1994 (Figure 10).
Distinct differences between the state and the nation were found in the percentage of total suicides that were firearm-related (Table 7). In West Virginia, the percentage of suicides due to firearms remained relatively constant from 1970 to 1994, ranging from a low of 67.5% in 1975 to a high of 78.6% in 1980 (with 73.3% in 1994). In the United States, on the other hand, there was a steady increase in the percentage of suicides that were due to firearms over the years, from a low of 50.1% in 1970 to a high of 63.4% in 1994. The percentage of firearm-related suicides was higher in the state than in the nation throughout the study period.
The majority of victims of firearm-related suicide are male, both state- and
nationwide, and the gap between the sexes appears to be increasing (Table 8). By 1994,
nine out of every 10 firearm-related suicide victims in West Virginia were male (91.0%);
in the United States, 87.2% were male.
Homicide. Total homicide rates fluctuated over the study years in both West Virginia and the United States, with national rates consistently exceeding state rates (Table 6). Firearm-related homicide rates also fluctuated, ranging from a low of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 population in West Virginia in 1985 to a high of 6.7 in 1980 and from a low of 5.1 in the U.S. in 1985 to a high of 7.2 in 1975 and 1980 (Figure 11).
No trends were discernible in the percentage of total homicides that were firearm-related in either the state or the nation. In West Virginia, the percentage of homicides that were due to firearms ranged from a low of 66.7% in 1994 to highs of 80.3% and 79.8% in 1980 and 1994, respectively (Table 9). On the national level, firearm-related homicides as a percentage of total homicides ranged from a low of 60.3% in 1985 to a high of 72.4% in 1994. In all of the study years except 1990, however, higher percentages of firearm-related homicides were found in the state than in the United States as a whole.
As noted with suicides, the majority of firearm-related homicide victims are male, both on a state and national basis. In West Virginia, the percentage of all firearm-related homicide victims that were males ranged from a low of 73.6% in 1994 to a high of 85.8% in 1980, with no apparent pattern in the fluctuations over the study years (Table 10). Nationally, the percentage of males fluctuated very little between 1970 and 1994, from a low of 80.5% of all firearm-related homicide victims in 1985 to a high of 84.4% in 1994.
1. All West Virginia and United States rates were age and sex adjusted to the 1990 U.S. census population distribution (see Appendix C: Technical Notes).
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Health Statistics Center
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West Virginia Bureau for Public Health
Last updated 02/07/06