Teenage Males Said More Apt To Die From Gunshots Than Natural Causes

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Washington--One-fifth of all deaths among U.S. teenagers in 1988 were due to gunshots, while nearly half of all deaths among black male teens that year were by firearms, according to a federal study released last week.

Black males 15 to 19 years old were more than 11 times more likely than their white counterparts to be murdered with a gun in 1988, the most recent year covered in the study by the Health and Human Services Department.

The data compiled by the department's National Center for Health Statistics also reveal that in 1988, for the first time, the chances that a white male ages 15 to 19 would die from a gunshot surpassed--by 11 percent--his chances of dying from natural causes. In a majority of cases among that group, 58.3 percent, the gunshots were self-inflicted.

Continuing a trend, the firearm-death rate for black males ages 15 to 19 in 1988 exceeded the rate for natural causes, making a black male teenager 2.8 times more likely to die from a gunshot than from disease.

Between 1987 and 1988, the study found, black male teenagers also suffered the worst single-year increase in the firearm-death rate. It rose from 828 deaths in 1987 to 1,118 in 1988--a jump of 35 percent.

Among black teenage males, both the overall firearm-death rate and the firearm-homicide rate more than doubled between 1984 and 1988, according to the report.

The findings drew a deeply emotional response from Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan.

Dr. Sullivan told an audience last week at Hampton University in Virginia that during the 100-hour Persian Gulf ground war, three times as many young Americans died on domestic soil from firearm violence as were killed in the Gulf offensive.

"Where are the yellow ribbons of hope and remembrance for our youth dying in the streets?" Dr. Sullivan asked. "Where is the concerted, heartfelt commitment to supporting the children of this war?"

"As Secretary of Health and Human Services and as a physician, I find these figures deeply disturbing," he told the historically black school's annual Black Family Conference. "As a black man and a father of three, this reality shakes me to the core of my being."

"Do you realize that the leading killer of young black males is young black males?" he asked.

The study, "Firearm Mortality Among Children, Youth, and Young Adults, 1979-1988," looked at statistics for Americans ages 1 to 34.

According to HHS data, among young people ages 15 to 24, unintentional injuries of various kinds were the leading cause of death--49.5 per 100,000--in 1988. Nearly 78 percent of those were motor-vehicle accidents.

Homicides and killings by law enforcers ranked second (15.4 deaths per 100,000); suicides were third (13.2 per 100,000); and cancer fourth, with 5.1 deaths per 100,000.

The study also examined trends between 1979 and 1988. From 1979 to 1984, it found, the rate of death from firearms for Americans ages 15 to 19 actually decreased by 11 percent, to 12.4 per 100,000.

But from 1984 to 1988, the firearm-death rate for teenagers increased by a dramatic 43 percent, rising 20 percent in 1988 alone, to 17.7 deaths per 100,000--a record level.

According to the study's authors, deaths among black male teenagers accounted for most of the increase.

Of all firearm-related deaths, homicide, rather than suicide or accident, was the largest single cause. In 1988, homicides accounted for more than half of firearm deaths among 1- to 9-year-olds; 35 percent of firearm deaths among 10- to 14-year-olds (tied with accidents); and 50.8 percent of such deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds.

But for black males ages 15 to 19, homicide soared to 85.4 percent of the firearm deaths, in contrast to the finding that suicide accounted for most firearm-related deaths among white males in that age group.

In looking at firearm deaths among 15- to 34-year-olds, the researchers focused on males, owing to much lower rates for women in that age group.

Vol. 10, Issue 26, Page 4

Published in Print: March 20, 1991, as Teenage Males Said More Apt To Die From Gunshots Than
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