Gun violence exposure harms health of Black Americans

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Exposure to gun violence, including vicarious exposure, has a powerful and cumulative effect on the functional health of Black Americans, especially women, according to a new study.

The findings contribute to an expanded understanding of firearm violence as a multifaceted issue that demands greater awareness and broader strategies to address the needs of those who are disproportionally affected.

Firearm violence is the leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-34 and the second-leading cause of death for Black females ages 15-24. Survivors of gun violence often face physical and psychological challenges following surgery.

The current study, published in the Journal of Urban Health, further explores the consequences of gun violence by looking at specific types of exposure and the functional health distinctions experienced by men and women resulting from that exposure.

“It’s a public health crisis that’s not limited to homicides,” says coauthor Christopher St. Vil, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

“This research shows that we must start thinking about and providing support to address the health implications of being exposed to gun violence—the day-to-day exposure, experienced directly and indirectly, and the effects that accumulate over time.”

The study’s nationally representative sample of 3,015 Black American adults living in the US in April and May of 2023 showed that 40% personally knew a shooting victim, while nearly 60% had themselves been exposed to at least one type of gun violence, which the researchers defined as persons who had ever been threatened with a firearm; intentionally shot; knew someone who had been threatened or shot; or had witnessed a shooting.

Functional health measures covered four areas: concentration, difficulty with stairs, difficulty dressing or bathing, and difficulty with daily tasks, such as running errands.

In addition to the startling level of exposure reported, the data analysis was also notable for the distinctions found across genders.

“Men and women were both just as likely to know a victim or hear about a shooting, but for men, it was more likely a result of community exposure. In the case of women, it was more likely a result of intimate partner violence,” says St. Vil. “Women’s functional health was also negatively affected across all four measures, suggesting total disability.”

This type of trauma, especially if it involved a romantic partner or loved one, might even present itself as an unwillingness to leave the house.

“Once we have an awareness for the cascading effects of being exposed to firearm violence we can begin dedicating resources to corrective measures and improving support for those who have been affected,” says St. Vil.

Additional coauthors are from Rutgers University.

Source: University at Buffalo