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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nonfatal Firearm Injuries by Intent in the United States: 2016-2018 Hospital Discharge Records from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project

  • Author(s): Schnippel, Kathryn;
  • Burd-Sharps, Sarah;
  • Miller, Ted R.;
  • Lawrence, Bruce A.;
  • Swedler, David I.
  • et al.

Introduction: In addition to the nearly 40,000 firearm deaths each year, nonfatal firearm injuries represent a significant public health burden to communities in the United States. We aimed to describe the incidence and rates of nonfatal firearm injuries.

Methods: We calculated nonfatal firearm injury estimates using the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, including the Nationwide Emergency Department Samples and the National Inpatient Samples. We used the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, Clinical Modification to identify firearm injury episodes. Deaths in the emergency department (ED) or as inpatients were excluded.

Results: In addition to the 118,171 persons shot and killed by firearms from 2016–2018, 228,380 people were shot (ratio 1.9:1) and treated at a hospital ED or admitted to hospital, a rate of 23.4 nonfatal firearm injury episodes per 100,000 population. The number of nonfatal injury episodes varied by year: 2018 had the lowest at 69,692, compared to 84,776 in 2017 and 73,912 in 2016. Unintentional injury episodes were the most frequent, accounting for 58.5% (n = 81,217) and 38.9% (n = 34,820) of total nonfatal firearm hospital discharges from the ED and inpatients, respectively. Assault episodes were the next most frequent, at 36.3% (n = 50,482) of ED and 49.5% (n = 44,290) of inpatient discharges. The highest rate of nonfatal firearm injury by five-year age group was for 20- to 24-year-olds. With an annual rate of 73.53 per 100,000 population, the rates for ages 20-24 were more than 10 times higher than the rates for patients younger than 15 or 60 years and older. More than half (53.4%, n = 121,884) of hospital-treated, nonfatal firearm injury episodes were patients living in ZIP codes with a median household income in the lowest quartile, compared to 7.5% (n = 17,102) for patients residing in the highest income quartile ZIP codes, a sevenfold difference.

Conclusion: For every person shot and killed by a gun in the US, two more are wounded. Unlike firearm deaths, which are predominantly suicides, most nonfatal firearm injury episodes are unintentional or with an assault intent. Having a reliable source of nonfatal injury data is essential to understanding the incidence of firearm injuries.

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