Emergency department visits for firearm injuries in the United States dropped slightly since 2020, but the rate in 2022 was still above pre-pandemic levels.
According to a new study published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the weekly number of emergency department visits related to firearm injuries began to rise in March 2020 before sharply increasing in May 2020 and remaining high.
The sharpest increase in visits happened the week of May 24, 2020, during a “period of increased social unrest over strained law enforcement–community relations and longstanding systemic inequities, structural racism, and trauma experienced by racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States,” the authors wrote in the study.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by three former Minneapolis police officers. The video of his death sparked nationwide uproar related to systemic racism and inequality.
In 2021, the rate dropped slightly from 2020. In 2022, the rate fell again, but still sat above the rate of weekly emergency department visits related to firearm injuries in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
Compared to the rate of visits in 2019, 2020 was 37% higher than the previous year, 2021 was 36% higher than 2019, and 2022 was 20% higher than that year.
In 2019, the average weekly number of visits was about 979, according to the study.
In 2022, the average number of weekly visits reached 1,170.
Of those 1,170 visits, roughly 180 of them were for women and about 990 were for men.
In general, most visitors between 2019 and 2022 were 15 to 24 years of age, but there was a sharp increase in infant to 14-year-olds going to the emergency department for firearm injuries.
In 2019, on average, about 29 of the 979 people who visited an emergency department for firearm related injuries were ages 0 to 14.
In 2022, on average, infants to 14-year-olds made up about 40 of the 1,170 weekly visits.
The authors offered some background for why there was an increase in visits among children.
“Challenges faced by children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic might have influenced their risk for firearm injury, including disruptions to daily routines and schooling,” the authors of the study wrote.
Social isolation, physical distancing, increased time at home, changes in healthcare access, and diminished security and safety could have increased access to firearms in the home for children.
The bigger picture
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of firearm homicides increased by 35%, and in 2020 the rate was the highest on record since 1993, according to the study.
In 2021, the rate of firearm suicide was the highest on record since 1990.
According to previous CDC data, during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, US counties with the highest poverty level had firearm homicide and firearm suicide rates that were 4.5 and 1.3 times as high, respectively, as counties with the lowest poverty level.
That same year 79% of all homicides and 53% of all suicides in the US involved firearms, according to the CDC.
What can be done?
More research is needed to better understand the overall causes for the increase in emergency department visits for firearm injuries, the study said.
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The study said this data should be used to create a comprehensive approach to prevent and respond to firearm injuries, and to address the social and economic inequalities that contribute to an increased risk of violence.
These strategies should be community based, according to the study, and might include street outreach programs and conflict de-escalation tools.
The study authors also suggested implementing hospital-based programs that intervene with victims of violence and improving community physical environment through vacant lot remediation.
Outside of community initiatives, the authors say enhanced secure firearm storage could reduce firearm access to people who could hurt themselves or others.