Transcript for Vital Signs Telebriefing: Firearm deaths show historic increase

Speaker 1 (00:00external icon):

Good afternoon. And thank you all for standing by at this time, all participant lines are any listen only mode. After today’s presentation, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and you may do so over the phone by pressing star one at that time. Today’s call is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. It is my pleasure to turn the call over to your host for today, Mr. Benjamin Hayes. Thank you, sir. You may begin.

Ben Haynes (00:24external icon):

Thank you, Holly. And thank you all for joining us today. As we relaunch CDC vital signs. We are joined by Dr. Debra Houry, who is acting principal, deputy director of CDC. And when not in this acting role serves as the director of the national center for injury prevention and control. We are also joined by Dr. Thomas Simon, who is the associate director for science in the division of violence prevention in the national center for injury prevention and control .Both will provide opening remarks before taking your questions. I’d like to remind everyone that this briefing is embargoed until 2:00 PM. When our vital signs is live on the CDC website, I’ll now turn the call over to Dr. Houry.

Debra Houry (01:06external icon):

Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you for joining us today. CDC works 24/7 to protect Americans against health, safety, and security threats. As we continue to address the COVID 19 pandemic, CDC has remained focused on other public health issues that impact the wellbeing of all Americans. This latest CDC, vital science report focuses on one of those health threats and what can be done about it. Today. We are here to discuss new information about firearm homicide and suicide trends in the us disparities that appear in these trends and opportunities to reverse these trends, to keep lives for being cut short. During this tele briefing, you’ll hear some disturbing trends that highlight significant disparities, particularly homicide rates for young black men. Firearm injury is tragically a major public health problem in the United States as an emergency room position, I saw firsthand the pain and destruction to families that firearms can cause and why we must prevent these injuries. 79% of all homicides and 53% of all suicides involve firearms in 2020, The firearm homicide rate increased by almost 35% from 2019 to 2020. This is a historic increase with the rate having reach its highest levels in over 25 years.

Debra Houry (02:48external icon):

These findings underscore the importance of comprehensive approaches that can stop violence now and prevent future deaths. We need to be vigilant in addressing the conditions that contribute to homicide and suicide. And the disparities observed CDC uses a public health approach to firearm violence prevention. That includes collecting data to understand trends and differences across groups and supporting research to understand what actions work to prevent and reduce firearm violence. These data can help states and communities make informed decisions about prevention activities. I will now turn it over to Dr. Tom Simon to share findings from the reports.

Ben Haynes (03:33external icon):

Thank you, Dr. Houry, good afternoon, everyone. I also want to thank you for joining us today to discuss this important issue. The topic of firearm, homicides and suicide is personal to many of us. I’ve talked with many people who lost a child, a parent, a sibling, or a friend to firearm, homicide or suicide. These deaths have devastating effects on families, schools, and entire communities, and have lasting consequences for us as individuals and as a society, our report provides statistics and numbers, but it’s also important to reflect on the individual lives lost and even one homicide or suicide is too many for this vital signs. We looked at changes in firearm, homicide and firearm, suicide rates coinciding with the emergence of the COVID 19 pandemic. In 2020, we examined the rates by age STS, race and ethnicity, geographic area, and county poverty levels. As we heard from Dr. Houry firearm related deaths are increasing. We saw the number of firearm homicides increase from 14,300 to 92 in 2019 to 19,350 in 2020, that is nearly 5,000 more lives lost to firearm homicide. In one year, this is nearly a 35% increase in the firearm homicide rate. And as a result of this increase, 2020 had the highest recorded firearm homicide rate in more than 25 years, the increases were pervasive. Firearm, homicides, firearm homicide rates increased across the country. And in both metropolitan and rural areas, we saw increases for males and females and across all age groups. Importantly, we also saw the widening of some longstanding disparities, for example, black men and boys ages 10 to 44 already had the highest firearm homicide rate. And this group saw the largest increase to put this in perspective, the rate among young black men and boys ages 10 to 24 was more than 21 times as high as the rate for white males in the same age group in 2020, we also saw large increase among American Indian, Alaska native men ages 25 to 44 firearm suicide rate will higher than the rate for firearm homicides remain nearly overall between 2019 in 2020, with more than 24,000 firearm homicides, firearm suicides in 2020 firearm, suicide rates were highest in the non metropolitan, more rural areas and notably American Indian, Alaska native population experienced the largest increase in firearm, suicide rates, firearm homicide and suicide are associated with economic conditions and racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to live in communities with high surrounding poverty in 2020, approximately 24% of the us population overall resided in counties classified as having the most poverty, however, approximately 29% of the Hispanic population, 39% of the non-Hispanic black population and 44% of the non-Hispanic American Indian Alaska native population resided in counties with high poverty levels.

Ben Haynes (06:55external icon):

Firearm homicide rates were higher and showed larger increases among people living in communities at higher poverty levels and were lowest and increased the least among persons living in communities at the lowest poverty level associations between poverty and firearm. Suicide are also evident yearly firearm suicide rates were highest among people living in communities at the highest poverty level for the us population overall and lowest among people living in communities at the lowest poverty level. The largest firearm suicide rate increases occurred among American Indian, Alaska, native people, living in communities at the two highest poverty levels. It’s important to note that the relationship between poverty and suicide and homicide rates goes beyond race and ethnicity county poverty levels are likely a marker for a range of other contributing factors, longstanding systemic inequities and structural racism, limit economic housing and educational opportunities. They contribute to unfair and avoidable health disparities among some racial and ethnic groups against the backdrop of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Ben Haynes (08:06external icon):

The increases in firearm, homicide rates and persistently high firearm suicide rates in 2020 combined with increases among populations that were already at high risk have widened disparities and heightened the urgency of actions to prevent violence. The study was not able to examine the reasons for the increasing rates and multiple explanations have been proposed in the literature. One possible explanation is stressors associated with the COVID 19 pandemic that could have played a role. And these include changes in disruptions to services and education, social isolation, economic stressors, such as job loss, housing, instability, and difficulty covering daily expenses. The COVID 19 pandemic could have worsened the effects of these and other existing social and economic stressors that increase the risk for homicide and suicide, particularly among racial, ethnic minority communities. These results underscore the importance of prevention strategies to reduce the risk for homicide and suicide and related disparities. So I’m gonna now turn it back over to Dr. Ay, who will describe some of the potential solutions to reduce high rates of firearm, homicides and suicides.

Debra Houry (09:21external icon):

Thank you, Dr. Simon. Given the increases in disparities, just outlined by Dr. Simon, you may be wondering what can be done to reduce the number of firearm related homicides and suicides. I first want to note that firearm violence is preventable Stopping firearm violence now, and in the future requires a comprehensive approach focused on reducing inequities. Some prevention strategies will have more immediate benefits while others will have longer term and sustained effects. Fortunately, we have learned a great deal about what works to prevent violence and suicide Programs, policies, and practices can reduce risk for violence and inequities by focusing on the places and the people experiencing the greatest burden of violence, as well as the underlying conditions contributing to risk. We can better address the needs of people at greatest risk for experiencing violence. For example, street outreach workers also known as violence interrupters have shown promising results for multiple outcomes, including firearm violence, by identifying and mediating, potentially lethal conflicts in the community. And following up to ensure that conflicts do not escalate and then connecting populations at highest risk for violence, with community services and treatment Hospital based violence prevention programs such as caught in the crossfire, which originated in Oakland, California, serve youth and young adults who have been admitted to the hospital with gunshot wounds, stab wounds and other assault related injuries.

Debra Houry (11:11external icon):

The program connects youth and their families with crisis intervention specialists who provide mentoring and intensive case management, including home visits and referrals to community services to break the cycle of violence. In addition, programs designed for populations at high risk for suicide can help prevent future attempts. The comprehensive white mountain Apache suicide surveillance and prevention system was associated with reduced Apache suicides and attempts And counseling and education paired with giving out a safety device like a lockbox are associated with safer firearm storage practices in the home. We can also begin to address the underlying economic conditions that contribute to risks for firearm violence, by strengthening economic and household stability through approaches like housing assistance, childcare, subsidies, tax credits, and livable wages. These approaches can help lift individuals and families out of poverty, reduce stress and enhance positive outcomes. We can also change the conditions within communities by enhancing and maintaining green spaces like cleaning, vacant lots and planting grass and trees in high risk areas. We can change the physical and social conditions that contribute to violence and inequities. Revitalized vacant. Lots in communities have been associated with reduced firearm assaults with particular benefits and areas with the highest poverty.

Debra Houry (12:55external icon):

These are some examples of community approaches to reduce risks for firearm injuries and deaths. There are many other approaches like mentoring, supporting norms against intimate partner and other violence, teaching coping and problem solving skills And implementing programs to prevent substance use and address mental health and wellbeing that can have far impact far reaching impacts on reducing risks for violence. These approaches can complement the work of law enforcement to help make their jobs easier and to make communities safer, to help communities implement locally driven approaches that address their needs. The CDC has released a series of technical packages that describe the best available evidence for violence prevention. These are available on our website While evidence exists to act. Now, there is also substantial need for additional research to expand evidence base for programs, policies, and practices that effectively reduce firearm injuries and deaths, and that Ari, that address drivers of inequities and risk for violence and suicide. I’ll end by emphasizing that firearm deaths are preventable, Not inevitable, and everyone has a role to play in prevention, Benjamin. We are ready to take questions.

Ben Haynes (14:28external icon):

Thank you, Dr. Houry before we get to your questions, I want to note that I misspoke on the embargo time. The embargo actually lists at 1:00 PM Eastern. Holly, I think we are ready for questions now.

Speaker 1 (14:43external icon):

Thank you to ask a question, please ensure your phone is not muted, press star one. And when prompted clearly record your first and last name. So I may introduce you to withdraw your question, press star two. Will we like taking one question and one follow up question per caller again, to ask a question star one, Our first caller is Tom Howell. You may go ahead.

Tom Howell (15:10external icon):

Hey, thanks for doing the call. Obviously there was a decade long debate about the CDCs role in researching done violence. Do you see this report as kind of the start of a new chapter in researching the topic and do you plan to have regular updates and will the CDC make policy proposals or does it see that as the purview of elected officials? Thank you.

Debra Houry (15:32external icon):

Thank you for this question. For 30 years, the CDCs injury center has been looking at violence and injury prevention, and we have reported on many of these deaths previously through our MMWR reports, This firearm vital signs, however, really is our chance to talk about how we prevent these deaths. These numbers are striking when you think about the number of lives that are behind them and CDC with the funding that you mentioned is now able to fund research to focus on these community level preventions. And that’s where our focus is knowing that we can save lives this way.

Ben Haynes (16:09external icon):

Next question, please.

Speaker 1 (16:15external icon):

And her next question comes from Mike Stobbe with The Associated Press. You may go ahead.

Stobbe (16:22external icon):

Hi, thank you for taking my question. Doctors, do you do you have information on states specific states, which states had the highest firearm suicide rate, which states had the highest firearm homicide rate and also which states of the lowest? And my second question would be, do you have information on the types of firearms? Like what percentage involve handguns, which percentage of homicides involve involved long guns and dittos suicide. Thank you.

Debra Houry (16:56external icon):

Thanks for that question. And, and this report, we looked at the census bureau divisions and for homicide, you know, we, we did report that. We saw it go up in all these census bureau areas for type of firearm. We did not record that that was not the focus of this study, but just similar. We did not record context either. We focused on the death by a homicide and suicide for this report and see if Dr. Simon has anything to add.

Ben Haynes (17:24external icon):

We’d just add that information on state specific rates is available through our web based system Whiskers. So it’s an interactive system that allows you to query for specific rates and regarding the specific type of firearm, oftentimes that information is not included in the death certificate when it is included. The most common type of firearm is a handgun over a long gun.

Ben Haynes (17:49external icon):

Next question please.

Speaker 1 (17:53external icon):

And before we go to our next question again, if you would like to ask a question, please ensure your phone is not muted, press star one. And when prompted record your first and last name. So I may introduce you, our next caller is James Pilcher with WKRC Local 12 in Cincinnati. You may go ahead.

James Pilcher (18:12external icon):

Good afternoon. Thanks for the call. So does this, this information doesn’t include accidental gun deaths, correct. And as a follow up, I wanted to follow up on the previous question. Was it my understanding that there was a ban at some point on the CDC studying gun violence and gun deaths as a policy. And is this a change from that? Thank you.

Debra Houry (18:35external icon):

Thank you for that question. I, I believe you’re referring to the Dickey amendment and that did not prohibit CDC from conducting research that prohibited advocacy, which CDC does not do and has never done CDC conducts research and preventing strategies. And with the recent congressional appropriations for the past two years, we’ve been able to fund 18 promising projects to look at innovations to prevent firearm violence.

Ben Haynes (19:05external icon):

Next question please.

Speaker 1 (19:09external icon):

And our next question is from Abraham Gutman with the Philadelphia Inquirer. You may go ahead.

Abraham Gutman (19:16external icon):

Hey, thank you very much for this briefing. Can you talk a little bit more about what you see in terms of age in, within the overall number of suicide deaths that did not go up?

Debra Houry (19:33external icon):

So what we saw when we looked at suicide deaths was that in general, overall, the rate did not go up in 2020, but when we broke it down by age, it was in the 10 to 44. The study also really found, you know, a striking disparity when you looked at American Indian and Alaska native youth as well with significant disparities there, I, I think regardless the number of lives lost to suicide is too many. And it’s something that we need to focus on. And for those who are listening or reporting on this, I encourage you to include the suicide lifeline at 1 802 7 3. Talk in your reports,

Ben Haynes (20:15external icon):

Holly, we have time for two more questions, please.

Speaker 1 (20:20external icon):

Thank you. Our next question is for Maria Marabito with Healio. You may go ahead.

Maria Marabito (20:28external icon):

Hi. do you have any advice for physicians on how to prevent suicide and homicide?

Debra Houry (20:38external icon):

You know, this, this takes me back to my time in the ER, I spent 15 years in our county, ER, here in Atlanta, and I can tell you how heartbreaking it was almost every day to lose lives. The number of lives lost that we saw that we couldn’t prevent and the number of families that I had to give that heartbreaking news to. So physicians have such an important role when it comes to preventing suicide and homicide there’s things like hospital violence programs to where we saw that safe, ER, teens in Michigan was able to link youth to motivational interviewing and referrals. There’s also safe. You can ask about firearm storage. We’ve seen that counseling paired with a safety device can result in improved safety measures. And then there’s also an initiative called Cardiff that we actually piloted here in Atlanta to where it involved different sectors, healthcare law enforcement and community members to look at the data, to see who was being injured. And then how do you prevent it? So physicians certainly have a key role to play.

Ben Haynes (21:44external icon):

Next question please.

Speaker 1 (21:47external icon):

And our next question is Eli Cahan with ABC news. You may go ahead.

Eli Cahan (21:53external icon):

Hi, thanks for taking my question and thanks. Dr. Houry and, and Dr. Simon for the call. My question is has the CDC been in communication with any of the other federal agencies that are involved in gun violence prevention? For example, I’m thinking about the FBI and the background checks that they routinely conduct on people. I wonder whether there’s been any conversation with that agency to team up and see whether there’s any harm reduction that can be done collaboratively.

Debra Houry (22:26external icon):

Thank you for that question. You know, we work regularly with other federal agencies as well as community partners. For instance, we partner with the NIH and SAMSA as we’re talking about evidence based strategies. And I think we’re a lot of these partnerships are really important. Like what you mentioned is at the community level, that’s where everybody can have an impact on prevention is for law enforcement, community members, faith, community, public health, clinicians, parents, working together to share data, to share what they’re learning and to prevent these deaths.

Ben Haynes (23:04external icon):

Holly, we actually have time for two more questions if they’re, if they’re there.

Speaker 1 (23:10external icon):

Thank you. Our next question is Steven Johnson with U.S. News and world report. You may go ahead.

Steven Johnson (23:18external icon):

Hello. Thank you for taking that call. My question was you mentioned that there are 18 projects currently. You’re currently working on 18 projects to prevent firearm violence. Do any of these projects involve research into like smart gun technology or, you know, technology of the gun itself to improvement where it can mitigate you know, deaths from our injury?

Debra Houry (23:49external icon):

The ones we’re currently funding have not, but you know, all the proposals really went through a rigorous, rigorous peer review process and we had many, many more applications than we could fund, which was a good problem. So we funded the most competitive ones and they range from, you know, education for children around safe firearm handling to retaliatory violence in inner cities to working with shops around suicide prevention so that we can really address all the different aspects of violence prevention.

Ben Haynes (24:21external icon):

Think our last question, please.

Speaker 1 (24:26external icon):

Our next question is from Jennifer Masci with The trace. You may go ahead.

Jennifer Masci (24:31external icon):

Hi. Yes. Hi. I was wondering if this report addresses defensive gun use or justifiable shootings, which is a highly contested figure and is often used by outside groups as a political talking plan.

Debra Houry (24:46external icon):

This study looked at firearm suicides and homicides and really the prevention around it. We didn’t look at context in this study.

Ben Haynes (24:59external icon):

Thank you, Dr. Houry and Dr. Simon, and thank you all for joining us today. If you have further questions, please call the main media line at 4 0 4 6 3 9 3 2 8 6 or email Thank you for joining us. This concludes our call

Speaker 1 (25:18external icon):

And this concludes today’s conference. Thank you for participating. You be disconnected at this time. Speakers, please stand by for post-conference.


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