US gun violence: half of people from Chicago witness a shooting by age 40

US gun violence: half of people from Chicago witness a shooting by age 40   

A man holds a sign saying 'stop gun violence' during a protest

Research co-authored by Professor David Kirk suggests that over half of Chicago's Black and Hispanic population, and a quarter of its White population, have witnessed a shooting by age 40.

The study tracked the lives of over 2,400 Chicago residents from childhood and adolescence in 1995 to the start of middle age in 2021.

Published in the Journal of American Medical Association, the paper was also authored by Charles C. Lanfear, Rebecca Bucci and Robert J. Sampson. 

Results revealed that 56% of Black and Hispanic residents from across the city witnessed at least one shooting by the time they turned 40, whereas 25% of White Chicagoans had witnessed a shooting by this age. 

Across all racial categories, 50% of the study’s participants had been exposed to gun violence by age 40. The average age to witness a shooting was just 14 years old.  

Of those in the study, more than 7% of Black and Hispanic people and 3% of White people had themselves been shot before turning 40. The average age for being shot was 17 years old. 

Researchers compared the locations of gun violence incidents in 2020-21. Rates of shootings within a 250-metre radius of the homes of Black participants were over 12 times higher than those of White participants. Rates of shootings near the homes of Hispanic people were almost four times higher than for White people. 

Men were also far more likely to be involved in violent crime, and this was reflected in the risks of actually being shot by age 40, which were five times higher for men than women.

However, there was a much smaller difference between the sexes for exposure to gun violence: 43% of women and 58% of men had seen someone get shot. 

The study noted,

The sustained stress resulting from routine exposure to firearm violence can take a cumulative physiological toll on the body, and is associated with damage to the body’s regulatory system and the acceleration of aging and susceptibility to disease.

The paper suggested that future work should focus on the timing and accumulation of exposure(s) to gun violence, as well as the longer-term affects of witnessing this violence. Additionally, further research is needed to explain the variations in firearm exposure by race and sex that were identified in this study.

Original Publication

Lanfear, C.C.; Bucci, R.; Kirk, D.; and Sampson, R.J. (2023). Inequalities in Exposure to Firearm Violence by Race, Sex, and Birth Cohort From Childhood to Age 40 Years, 1995-2021. JAMA Netw Open. 6(5):e2312465.