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The rate at which teenagers ages 15 to 19 were killed by firearms leaped 77 percent between 1985 and 1990, reaching its highest level to date, according to a new federal study.

The 1990 rate of 23.5 deaths per 100,000 population in that age group was up from 19.8 per 100,000 the year before and 13.3 per 100,000 in 1985.

The 1990 rate of firearm deaths--which include murder, suicide, and accidents--meant that one of every four deaths in that age group came as the result of a firearm injury, the report said.

The study, which updates previously reported statistics with the most recent 1990 figures, was released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The firearm death rate for 10- to 14-year-olds increased 18 percent from 1985 to 1990, reaching a rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000, the study states.

Firearms are the second-leading cause of death--behind motor-vehicle fatalities--for both children ages 10 to 14 and teenagers ages 15 to 19, the report says.

In addition, the overall rates for murder by firearm for those ages 15 to 19 more than doubled between 1985 and 1990, rising from 5.8 deaths per 100,000 to 14.0 per 100,000.

During that period, the firearm homicide rate for black males ages 15 to 19 had the highest increase, nearly tripling to 105.3 per 100,000. It increased 23 percent just from the previous year's rate of 85.5 per 100,000, the study found.

The rates of increase have also worsened for gun murders among white males. For white males ages 15 to 19, homicide rates increased at an average annual rate of 24 percent between 1988 and 1990.

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