In some U.S. zip codes, young men face more risk of firearm death than those deployed in recent wars, study finds

The risk of firearm death in the U.S. is on the rise: in 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults. Yet the risk is far from even — young men in some U.S. zip codes face disproportionately higher risks of firearm-related injuries and deaths.

To better understand the magnitude of the gun violence crisis and put it in perspective, researchers at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania compared the risk of firearm-related death for young adult men living in the most violent areas in four major U.S. cities with the risks of combat death and injury faced by U.S. military personnel who served in Afghanistan and Iraq during active periods of war.

The results were mixed: The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that young men from zip codes with the most firearm violence in Chicago and Philadelphia faced a notably higher risk of firearm-related death than U.S. military personnel deployed to wartime service in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the opposite was true in two other cities: The most violent areas in New York and Los Angeles were associated with much less risk for young men than those in the two wars.

In all zip codes studied, risks were overwhelmingly borne by young men from minority racial and ethnic groups, the study found.

“These results are an urgent wake-up call for understanding, appreciating and responding to the risks and attendant traumas faced by this demographic of young men,” said Brandon del Pozo, an assistant professor of medicine (research) at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and an assistant professor of health services, policy and practice (research) at the University’s School of Public Health.

Del Pozo conducts research at the intersection of public health, public safety and justice, focusing on substance use, the overdose crisis, and violence. His recently released book, “The Police and the State: Security, Social Cooperation, and the Public Good,” is based on his academic research as well as his 23 years of experience as a police officer in New York City and as chief of police of Burlington, Vermont.

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