Research Brief

Sharp rise in firearm-related deaths among rural Black youth

A close up photo of a teenage African America man and a Caucasian woman face to face.
Credit: Getty Images

Firearm-related injuries have been the leading cause of death in children and adolescents in the U.S. since 2020, surpassing motor vehicle crashes. New research from the University of Minnesota shows the sharpest increase in firearm-related mortality over the past decade is not in urban areas but among Black rural youth. 

Historically, firearm-related deaths between ages 1 and 19 have predominantly occurred through homicides among Black urban youth and suicides among white and Indigenous rural youth. The team analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on youth mortality between 1999 and 2022 to determine if historical mortality patterns still exist today.

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found: 

  • Firearm-related mortality rates increased 35% for all youth between 1999 and 2022, with the greatest increase among Black youth. 
  • For decades, firearm-related deaths among Black youth were far more common in urban areas, but, since 2018, Black rural youth experienced firearm-related mortality rates as high as those of Black urban youth. 
  • The firearm-related mortality rate in Black rural youth quadrupled since 2013. The overwhelming majority of these firearm-related deaths were homicides. 
  • In 2013, when Black rural youth firearm deaths began to rise, Black and white rural youth had a similar risk of dying from firearms.  In 2022, Black rural youth died from firearms at four times the rate of white rural youth.

“Firearm-related homicide is no longer an issue that disproportionately affects Black urban youth, it now impacts all Black youth,” said lead author Allison Lind, a graduate student in the School of Public Health and trainee at the Minnesota Population Center (MPC). “This significant increase in firearm-related deaths in the last decade underscores the urgent need for public health attention to better understand and prevent these deaths.”

The researchers found that Black youth made up 10% of the rural youth population but accounted for 30% of the rural youth firearm deaths in 2022.

"Though the homicide rate in general increased during the pandemic, Black rural youth’s firearm deaths started to skyrocket well before that,” said co-author Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, associate director of the MPC and an associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts. “Black rural youth’s firearm death rates have increased much more sharply than any other group of youth.”

The researchers emphasize that solutions will require additional analysis to understand the unique circumstances driving this epidemic.

“Although the proportion of Black youth living in rural areas is  relatively small — 9% of Black youth — the scale and duration of the increased risk for these young people is significant,” said co-author Susan Mason, a member of the MPC and an associate professor in the School of Public Health. “This change could potentially indicate substantial shifts in who is at risk of dying from firearms.”

This research was supported by funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.