Urban firearm deaths: a five-year perspective

J Trauma. 1993 Oct;35(4):532-6; discussion 536-7.


Firearm violence is an ever-increasing element in the lives of the U.S. urban population. This study examined the trends in firearm violence and victims during a 5-year period in the city of Philadelphia. Medical Examiner records of all deaths in Philadelphia County in 1985 and 1990 were reviewed. Demographic, autopsy, and criminal record information was analyzed. There were 145 firearm homicide victims in 1985 versus 324 in 1990, a 123% increase. This was primarily because of deaths among young (age 15-24 years), black male victims. Handguns were involved in at least 90% of firearm homicides in both study years. The use of semiautomatic handguns increased from 24% to 39% during the study period. In 1985, 42% of revolver homicides died at the scene, versus 18% in 1990. However, 5% of victims of semiautomatic weapons fire died at the scene in 1985 versus 34% in 1990. The decrease in survival of semiautomatic weapon victims occurred despite the implementation of six trauma centers within the county, and probably reflects a shift toward high-velocity, high-caliber ammunition. Antemortem drug use and criminal history was common. A total of 54% of victims were intoxicated in 1985 and 61% were in 1990. Cocaine became the most common intoxicant in 1990, with 39% of victims using it during the antemortem period. The percentage of victims with a criminal record increased from 44% to 67%. Although the duration of criminal history decreased from 14 to 6 years, the number of patients with previous drug offenses increased from 33% to 84%..(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Crime / trends
  • Female
  • Firearms
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Philadelphia / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Wounds, Gunshot / mortality*