Racial Segregation and Gun Violence in Black Communities

August 11, 2023

What distinguishes the United States from other rich countries is not freedom, but firearms. No other rich country has a firearm homicide rate anywhere near as high as the United States. As if to emphasize this point, over last month’s Fourth of July holiday weekend, there were at least 17 mass shootings which left 18 people dead and 102 injured. The Fourth of July is the most popular day for mass shootings in the United States.

While mass shootings receive the most national media attention, it is important to be aware that the United States has at least four different gun violence crises occurring at the same time. For this discussion, “interpersonal gun violence” will refer to shootings associated with street crime and interpersonal conflicts, including intimate partner gun violence. Interpersonal gun violence causes more deaths and injuries than mass shootings. While there were at least 17 mass shootings over the Fourth of July weekend, there were hundreds of interpersonal shootings that same weekend.

Gun violence is a complicated issue with multiple causes. Interpersonal gun violence has a disproportionately harmful impact on Black people. Previously, the Center for Economic and Policy Research illustrated the relationship of gun violence to poverty and economic hardship. The figure illustrates the relationship between gun violence victimization among Black people and racial segregation. (The data is for 42 states for which the public health researcher Anita Knopov and her colleagues were able to obtain Black firearm homicide rates and segregation measures.)

Figure 1:  

More segregated states tend to have higher Black firearm homicide rates. More in-depth analyses show that the relationship between segregation and violence holds even with controls for poverty and other measures of economic hardship. (See, for example, these articles.) Residential segregation facilitates, concentrates, and amplifies multiple forms of social and economic disadvantage in Black communities, which then creates the conditions for a higher rate of interpersonal violence.

There are numerous facets to the gun violence problem in the United States. One component is the high degree of social and economic marginalization of many in the Black population. A strong commitment to improving the material economic circumstances of Black people would lead to less interpersonal gun violence.

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