THURSDAY, May 12, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Large metropolitan areas suffer about two-thirds of all firearm homicides in the United States, with inner cities most affected, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The central cities really bear the burden of firearm homicides," said Linda L. Dahlberg, the associate director for science in CDC's Division of Violence Prevention, noting that the gun murder rate was highest among male children and teens.
These findings "speak to the importance of addressing youth if we really want to do something about the gun violence problem," Dahlberg said.
According to the CDC, 25,423 murders by gunfire took place in the United States in 2006 through 2007 -- the years of the most recent available statistics.
Among these deaths, the rate of firearm homicides was higher in inner cities than in other parts of cities and higher than the murder rate of the country as a whole, Dahlberg said. People living in 50 of the largest cities, in fact, accounted for 67 percent of all firearm homicides.
In addition, children and teens aged 10 to 19 in these areas -- more than 85 percent of them male -- accounted for 73 percent of all firearm homicides in that age group, Dahlberg noted.
In the United States, "gun violence escalated in the late 1980s and 1990s, fueled in part by the crack cocaine epidemic," Dahlberg said. "Even though the rates have declined since 1994, the proportion of youth homicides that are committed with firearms has remained consistently high."
To reduce the carnage, the country needs to teach young people ways to resolve conflicts without violence, according to the CDC.
The findings were published in the May 13 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
For the study, researchers used data from the National Vital Statistics System and the U.S. Census Bureau to calculate gun murders in the 50 largest U.S. cities for 2006-2007.
The researchers found regional differences in the rates of firearm homicides rates, which tended to be higher in cities in the Midwest and South than in the Northeast and West.
Dahlberg noted that research shows that youth violence is preventable -- with effort. "Programs that build skills in resolving conflicts without resorting to violence have resulted in reductions in youth violence," she said.
Parenting and mentoring programs can also have a strong impact. So can community-wide programs that focus on neighborhoods trying to change the physical and social environment, Dahlberg added. "Neighborhood interventions have resulted in significant reductions in crime and violence," she said.
There are also programs like "Cease Fire" that focus on preventing shooting and try to work with many people in the community, including hospitals and community outreach groups, to help defuse violence and "change the community norms around violence," Dahlberg said.
The report also included information on gun suicides -- which, unlike murders, are least common in cities.
Cities accounted for only 39 percent of firearm suicides, Dahlberg pointed out. "Gun suicides were lower in urban areas than in the nation overall," she said. "And, the central cities had rates below other metropolitan areas."
Daniel Webster, professor and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, isn't surprised that most firearm murders occur in inner cities.
"One of the strongest correlates for homicide is 'concentrated disadvantaged,' where everyone living in an area is poor and unemployed," he said. "There are a lot of sociological factors at play here that make some urban communities at high risk for youth and gun violence," he explained.
Webster's strategy for reducing gun murders by teens is making guns harder to get. That means cracking down on people who sell guns, especially those who sell guns to teens.
In addition, police can crack down on people who illegally carry guns, particularly in inner cities. "Special units -- whose principal task is to identify individuals who illegally carry guns and arrest them and get the guns off the streets -- appear to work to reduce gun violence," Webster said.
Also, community programs like "Cease Fire" can have a significant effect in reducing gun violence, he added.
Gary Kleck, the David J. Bordua Professor of Criminology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, has another take on how to reduce inner-city gun violence.
The evidence suggests that better gun control doesn't necessarily reduce violence, but a broad-based approach tends to reduce homicide in general, he said.
For one thing, "locking up more criminals reduces violence; it's not gun specific," he said. There are treatment programs that can help, he added. "They basically teach offenders how to think differently when [they] face a violent situation," Kleck said.
In addition, job training can help in getting people not to commit crimes or violence, Kleck said.
For more information on gun violence, visit the U.S. National Institute of Justice.