2006, but then began to climb.30 Additionally, firearm-related death rates for youth ages 15-19 declined from 1994 to 2009 (Dowd and Sege, 2012). The reasons for the decline in firearm-related youth violence are unclear, although some experts credit improving socioeconomic conditions, general violence prevention programs, a declining crack/cocaine market, and increased community policing (Dowd and Sege, 2012).

It is important to understand how certain factors can affect the risk of different types of violence. As set forth below, a number of modifiable and unmodifiable factors affect the risks posed by possession and use of guns, including factors as straightforward as how guns are stored and as complex as society-, community-, situational-, and individual-level predictors.

Society-Level Factors

At the societal level, income inequality emerges as a powerful predictor of firearm homicide and violent crime. Research suggests that income inequality undermines social cohesion and social capital, which in turn, increases firearm violence (Kennedy et al., 1998). Other studies have shown that high-income countries with high levels of firearm availability also have higher rates of female homicide, after controlling for income inequality (Hemenway et al., 2002). Research on international variation in homicides also shows a link with income inequality possibly mediated by low levels of trust, a proxy for social capital (Elgar and Aitken, 2011). Poor mental health, chronic environmental and social stressors, racial and income inequalities, gender inequalities, high rates of unemployment, and a lack of educational and employment opportunities are all associated with higher rates of firearm violence (WHO, 2002).

Violence prevention programs, legislative reforms, and declines in firearm availability may contribute to decreased firearm violence (Dowd and Sege, 2012). Some studies identify an association between increased firearm legislation (including firearm purchase background checks) (Sumner et al., 2008) and lower rates of fatal firearm violence (Fleegler et al., 2013), while other studies have not found this correlation (Hahn et al., 2005).


30 NCIPC. 2013. WISQARS injury mortality reports: 1999-2010, United States, suicide firearm deaths and rates per 100,000—all races, both sexes, all ages, output by year, age-adjusted (accessed April 30, 2013).

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