A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine claims to have discovered marked geographical disparities between the homicide and suicide rates among black and white men.
Researchers compiled data on homicides and suicides committed with guns in all fifty states, focusing specifically on non-Hispanic black and white males.
They found significant differences between the two demographics. In gun-related incidents, black men are more likely to die in homicides while white men are more likely to die in suicides.
But while they found no geographical trends related to homicides, 6 of the top 10 states with the highest gun-related suicide rates among whites are located in the south and the other four are located in the west. Northern and eastern states boast the lowest suicide rates among white men.
“The most surprising thing to me when I was conducting the analysis was how different the rates were across states,” Corinne Riddell, a postdoctoral researcher at McGill University in Canada who was the lead author of the study.
“We knew going into it that whites would have a higher rate of suicide and that black men would have a higher rate of homicide, but to see that level of variation in the rates across states was surprising,” she said. “Any time I see variations so large like that, that can’t be due to chance. I want to know why the differences exist.”
Unfortunately, the limitations of the study do not allow researchers to answer Riddell’s question.
The study used death-certificate data on homicides and suicides among non-Hispanic black and white men across the United States between 2008 and 2016. The data came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database.
Compared with white men, the researchers found that black men experienced 27 more firearm homicides per 100,000 people annually nationwide (29.12 for black men vs. 2.1 for white men). “Black men are 14 times more likely than white men to die by firearm homicide,” states the study.
Compared with black men, the researchers found that white men had nine more firearm suicides per 100,000 people annually nationwide (5.41 for black men vs. 14.34 for white men). The ten states with the highest suicide rates were Mississippi, Nevada, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, and Texas.
While data collected from death certificates can indicate general trends, it lacks the contextual information necessary to speculate on why those trends exist.
“This study, like any study that depends on death certificate data, paints a broad picture,” Dr. James Buehler, clinical professor of health management and policy at Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health in Philadelphia, told CNN.
“It lets you see large patterns and make general inferences when the findings are triangulated with what is known from other research, and it lets you frame questions for further investigations,” he said. “But this type of study generally cannot answer questions that begin with the word ‘why.’”