Background: To describe the incidence and outcome of injuries due to firearms, we conducted a population-based study of fatal and nonfatal gunshot wounds in three cities: Memphis, Tennessee; Seattle; and Galveston, Texas.
Methods: Records of the police, medical examiners, ambulance crews, and hospital emergency departments and hospital admissions were monitored to identify all injuries caused by firearms that were severe enough to prompt emergency medical treatment. These records were linked to generate a complete picture of each event. Census data were used to calculate rates of injury for various population groups.
Results: A total of 1915 cases of injury due to firearms were identified between November 16, 1992, and May 15, 1994. The crude rate of firearm injury per 100,000 person-years was 222.6 in Memphis, 143.6 in Galveston, and 54.1 in Seattle. Approximately 88 percent of the injuries were incurred during confirmed or probable assaults; 7 percent were sustained in the course of suicide or attempted suicide; unintentional injuries accounted for 4 percent of the cases. Handguns were used in 88 percent of the cases in which the type of weapon was recorded. Five percent of the 1677 victims who were brought to a hospital emergency department could not be resuscitated; 53 percent were hospitalized, and 42 percent were treated and released. Ninety-seven percent of the deaths occurred within 24 hours of the injury. Emergency department and inpatient charges exceeded $16.5 million.
Conclusions: Injuries due to firearms, most involving handguns, are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in U.S. urban areas. The incidence varies greatly from city to city.