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CDC: Gun-related deaths in U.S. climb for second straight year

In 2016, about 38,000 Americans died from gun-related wounds — a death rate of about 12 per 100,000 people.

Law enforcement officials investigating Sunday's mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.
Nick Wagner/American-Statesman via Reuters

The rate of gun deaths in the United States rose for the second straight year in 2016, after more than a decade of remaining relatively flat, according to data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2016, about 38,000 Americans died from gun-related wounds — a death rate of about 12 per 100,000 people. That was up from about 36,000 deaths in 2015, or a rate of about 11 per 100,000 people.

For the previous 15 years, however, gun deaths had held fairly steady at about 33,500 Americans each year — a rate of about 10 per 100,000 people.

As in past years, about two-thirds of the gun deaths in 2016 were suicides. But gun homicides made a troubling jump — to 11,000 in 2016, up from 9,600 a year earlier.

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The 2016 gun death rate isn’t as high as during the early 1990s (15 per 100,000 people), but the trend reflected in the new data is worrying experts.

“The fact that we are seeing increases in the firearm-related deaths after a long period where it has been stable is concerning,” Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told the New York Times. “It is a pretty sharp increase for one year.”

Research into why the increase is occurring will be difficult to do, however, as Congress, under pressure from the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, has greatly restricted federal funding for research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. 

Another disturbing trend

Drug-related deaths in the U.S. also climbed in 2016  — by almost 18 percent, according to the CDC data.

In 2016, the drug-related death rate was 19.8 per 100,000 people, up from 16.3 per 100,000 the year before. That one-year spike is greater than the increase over the previous four years combined, the CDC researchers point out.

As the agency reported in September, an estimated 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016 — twice as many as a decade ago. The increase has been largely driven by the growing opioid drug crisis.

“We have roughly two groups of Americans that are getting addicted,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy researcher from Brandeis University, told the New York Times. “We have an older group that is overdosing on pain medicine, and we have a younger group that is overdosing on black market opioids.”

President Trump declared the opioid crisis “a public health emergency” last month, although he has yet to release extra funding to deal with it.

Other findings

Some good news can be found in the data published Friday by the CDC, particularly regarding the country’s top two causes of death: heart disease and cancer.

During the 12 months ending in June 2017, the age-adjusted death rate for heart disease was 163.9 per 100,000 people, down from 165.3 per 100,000 a year earlier.

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And the aged-adjusted death rate for cancer was 153.1 per 100,000, down from 157 a year earlier.

Still, Americans are dying at increased rates. The age-adjusted death rate for all causes for the 12-month period ending in June 2017 was 727.8 per 100,000 people, which is higher than the rate of 723.6 for the similar 12-month period ending in June 2016.

Two years ago, in 2015, overall life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the first time since 1993 (to 78.8 years). That trend appears to be continuing.

The CDC report is based on preliminary data provided by all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It will be updated later this year when the data is more complete. 

FMI: You can find the CDC’s death data at the agency’s website.