Firearm-Related Fatalities, Arizona, 1985-1995
This Report was Prepared by Christopher K. Mrela, Ph.D. Assistant Registrar of Vital Statistics.
This section presents some illustrative findings contained in the figures and tables of the report.
It is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of the tabulated data. When possible, United States
data are given in order to provide a comparative context for the Arizona firearm-related mortality
- In 1995, firearms ranked second, surpassed only by motor vehicles, as the leading cause of
injury mortality both nationwide and in Arizona. Motor vehicle collisions and firearm-related
injuries accounted for 60.2 percent of all injury deaths in Arizona in 1995.
- Relative to people nationally, Arizonans were more likely to die from firearm injuries in each
year from 1985 to 1995 (Figure 1, Table 1).
- The Arizona age-adjusted firerarm- related mortality rate increased by 32.6 percent from 18.4
firearm-related deaths per 100,000 persons in 1985 to 24.4/100,000 in 1995 and was the
highest rate of the eleven-year period 1985-1995.
- The 1995 Arizona firearm-related mortality rate was 81 percent higher than the national rate,
and 75 percent higher than the Arizona 2000 health objective of 14 weapon-related deaths per
- All but a small fraction of firearm- related fatalities are intentionally inflicted. During the
eleven-year period 1985-1995, 8,021 Arizona residents were killed by firearms. Of these
deaths, 249 (or 3.1 percent) were classified as unintentionally inflicted firearm injuries, 5,158
(64.3 percent) as suicides, 2,415 (30.1 percent) as homicides, 109 (1.4 percent) were fatal
injuries inflicted by the police or other law-enforcement agents, and 90 (1.1 percent) were
undetermined whether the injury was accidentally or purposely inflicted (Figure 2).
- The average annual firearm-related death rate among Blacks (36.7/100,000) was the highest
among ethnic groups in 1985-1995. It exceeded the corresponding rates for Asian, American
Indian, Hispanic and non-Hispanic white residents of Arizona by 322, 115, 90 and 87 percent
respectively (Figure 3, Table 17).
- Among non-Hispanic whites, American Indians, and Asians firearm-related fatalities
predominantly were a result of suicide. In contrast, the majority of deaths from firearms were
incurred in acts of homicide among Blacks and Hispanics (Figure 3, Table 16).
- With the exception of persons aged 45-64 years, the average annual age-specific death rates by
firearms were the highest for Blacks among ethnic groups (Figure 4). Among children under
15 years of age, adolescents 15-19 years old, young adults 20-44 years old, and elderly
persons 65 years of age and over, Blacks were at least 1.28 times more likely to have been
firearm victims (Table 17).
- All age-specific death rates for firearm homicides among Blacks were the highest among
ethnic groups in Arizona in 1985-1995 (Figure 5, Table 17).
- A general tendency of firearm suicide rates to increase with age was seen among non-Hispanic whites. The 1995 death rate for firearm suicide among non-Hispanic white elderly 65 years and older was 66 percent greater than among Blacks, 185 percent greater than among Hispanics, and 348 percent greater than among American Indians (Figure 6, Table 17). Among adolescents 15-19 years old, the highest death rates for firearm suicides were among Blacks.
- In any given year since 1991, annual firearm-related death rates among teenagers 15-19 years of age were the highest among the age groups (Table 1).
- Between 1985 and 1995, the total firearm death rate among teenagers 15-19 years old more than doubled reaching 45.3 fatalities per 100,000 persons in this age group in 1995 (Table 1). The firearm homicide rate increased 5.4 times from 5.1/100,000 in 1985 to 27.7/100,000 in 1995 (Figure 7, Table 15). Indeed, the average annual number of Arizona adolescents murdered by firearms between 1991 and 1995 (53 fatalities per year) was 3.5 times greater than in the preceding six years, from 1985 to 1990 (15 fatalities per year, Table 2). At the same time, the 1995 rate for firearm suicide (14.4/100,000) decreased 20 percent from the decade-high rates of 1993 and 1994.
- Since 1986, the annual firearm death rates for Arizona teenagers have been higher than their death rates associated with natural causes of death (such as heart disease or cancer) combined (Figure 8). The ratio of firearm to natural causes of mortality among adolescents 15-19 years old increased from 0.9:1 in 1985 to 1.8:1 in 1995. One of every three deaths among teenagers 15-19 years in 1995 was by firearm (126 out of 363), compared to one out of every five in 1985 (48 out of 261).
- The 1995 mortality rate from firearms among males 41.3/100,000) was 5.6 times greater than the rate of 7.4/100,000 among females (Table 8). Particularly high gender ratios in firearm mortality were evident in 1985-1995 for American Indians (male rate of 30.3 was 6.6 times the rate of 4.2 for females, Figure 9, Table 17).
- Among males the 1995 firearm mortality curve by age was bimodal (Figure 10, Table 8), reaching the first peak at ages 15-19 years (78.5/ 100,000), tapering off to 32.6/100,000 at ages 45-64, and rising to a second peak among the elderly 65 years and older (49.2/100,000). The female firearm death rate was highest for those 20-44 years old (11.0/ 100,000).
- Sixty-seven of every 100 suicide deaths in Arizona (Table 12) and seventy of every 100 murders (Table 13) involved firearms in 1995.
- In 1994 (the latest year for which the firearm death rates are available by State), the age-adjusted firearm mortality rates ranged from 5.1/100,000 in Massachusetts to 49.6/100,000 in the District of Columbia. Arizona ranked fifth highest in the nation (Figure 11).
- In Arizona, the age-adjusted rate of death by firearms in the 1995 period varied from 12.9/100,000 Santa Cruz County residents to a rate of 41.4 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents of Gila County (Figure 12).
- Some homicides and some suicides could be prevented if there was no firearm available. This observation is in keeping with one of the general principles of injury prevention: "It is easier to remove the physical agent of potential injury than it is to modify risk-taking behavior"*.
Jeffrey J. Boyd and Eve K. Moscicki, Firearms and Youth Suicide. American Journal of Public
Health. October 1986. Vol. 76, No.10: 240-242.