The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Firearms have cost 12.6 million years of life in just a decade

Gun deaths increased by 0.72 percent every year, rising from 47 percent to nearly 51 percent, researchers found

Pistols on display. (iStock)

For years, the primary cause of death for younger Americans was automobile accidents.

That’s evolving as firearm deaths mount — and they cost millions of years of potential life.

In an analysis in Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open, researchers found that between 2009 and 2018, the United States lost 12.6 million years of life because of firearms alone.

The team used Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data and death certificates. Over the period studied, they found, firearm deaths increased by 0.72 percent every year, rising from 47 percent of trauma deaths to nearly 51 percent.

2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades. So far, 2021 is worse.

When the researchers calculated years lost based on an average life expectancy of 80 years, they found that White males, who constitute the majority of firearm deaths, lost the most years of potential life because of suicide by gun — a total of 4.95 million potential years during the decade-long study period. White males under 45 were 46 percent less likely to die by firearm suicide than their older counterparts.

Black males were more likely to die of homicide, losing 3.2 million potential years. The majority who died by homicide were between the ages of 15 and 24.

Although females were much less likely to die because of a firearm, gun suicide was on the rise among women, too; they lost over 867,000 years of potential life because of suicide.

To reduce suicides, look at guns

The researchers found stark regional differences in the trends, and point out that the South — the region with the highest number of registered firearms — has a higher level of gun-related suicide and homicide than the rest of the nation.

Second Amendment advocates argue that the right to bear arms can prevent deaths, but the researchers write, “the data reveal that the resulting access to firearms has equated to magnitudes of death due to firearm suicides in the same individuals demanding access to firearms.” They call for more tailored suicide prevention programs aimed at those at highest risk, and the restriction of access to “all methods of suicide.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.