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Gun injuries in 2023 still at higher rates than before pandemic across most states, CDC reports

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Rates of gun injuries last year remained above levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic for a fourth straight year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, looking at data from ambulance calls in 27 states collected through September 2023.

Last year's elevated rates come as many communities have seen rates of firearm violence improve in the wake of a surge during the initial years of the pandemic. Instead, only some groups have seen rates yet to fully recover from the surge.

"Annual rates among Black and Hispanic persons remained elevated through 2023; by 2023 rates in other racial and ethnic groups returned to prepandemic levels," the study's authors wrote in their article, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Preliminary CDC data on gun deaths also show rates last year remained worse than in 2019 nationwide, despite a slowdown off of peak levels in 2020 and 2021.

Thursday's report looked at data from emergency medical services systems collected by data firm Biospatial, which looked to shed more light on the gun injuries that do not result in deaths or hospitalizations.

Linking the data to county-level demographics data found rates of firearm injuries "were consistently highest" in counties with severe housing problems, which also saw the biggest increases compared with 2019. 

By income, rates were also highest in counties with the most income inequality and higher unemployment rates

Rates remained highest in males compared with females, similar to before the COVID-19 pandemic, but increases relative to 2019 "were larger among females." Similar to the overall rate, both males and females saw higher rates of gun-related injuries in 2023 than in 2019.

"The unequal distribution of high rates and increases in firearm injury EMS encounters highlight the need for states and communities to develop and implement comprehensive firearm injury prevention strategies," the authors wrote.

Worse in children than before the pandemic

When measured relative to rates before the pandemic, authors found that the subgroup "with the largest persistent elevation in 2023" were rates of gun injuries in children and adolescents, up to 14 years old.

Around 235 of every 100,000 emergency medical service "encounters" in the data for children up to 14 years old were for firearm injuries in 2023, which range from gunshot wounds by others to accidental self-inflicted injuries. 

That is more than 1.5 times higher than in 2019, where 148.5 out of every 100,000 ambulance calls for children were for gun injuries.

But when measured relative to other groups within 2023, the study's authors found the worst rates were in teens and young adults, ages 15 to 24. Rates in this group were also worst in 2019, before the pandemic.

Out of every 100,000 ambulance calls in teens and young adults, 1,045 of them were for firearm injuries in 2023. 

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