Young men in violent parts of Philadelphia, Chicago die from guns at a higher rate than US troops in the heat of battle

Alex Knorre, Boston College, The Conversation on

Published in Political News

Mass shootings tend to dominate the debate over gun violence – but they accounted for just 3% of all firearm homicides in the United States in 2021.

The vast majority of gun homicides are murders that happen in an extremely concentrated number of neighborhoods – places where the rate of gun deaths rivals war zones.

As a scholar of gun violence and victimization in the United States, I study and publish research on the geographic and demographic concentration of shootings, and I’m always searching for new perspectives to help people understand this crisis.

Shootings happen over and over in the same locations. About half take place in just 1% to 5% of the land area in U.S. cities – in other words, in a tiny percentage of the nation’s homes, stores, parks and street corners.

These same neighborhoods tend to suffer from what criminologists call concentrated disadvantage – an unsavory mix of high crime rates, illegal drug markets, poverty, limited educational and economic opportunities, and residential instability. Cumulatively, these factors decrease the residents’ ability to maintain public order and safety in the ways that safer neighborhoods do informally by confronting violent behavior or supervising teenagers.

Kids who grow up in these neighborhoods suffer the long-lasting repercussions of exposure to violence, such as high levels of stress and trauma that dampen educational attainment and result in decreased cognitive ability.


The demographics of these neighborhoods means that both victims and perpetrators of shootings are disproportionately young Black men. Young Black men represented 93.9% of firearm-related homicide victims in Chicago and 79.3% of gun homicides in Philadelphia – where young Hispanic men make up another 12.9%. Homicides disproportionately affect the young largely because men ages 15 to 25 are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior, a phenomenon known as the age-crime curve.

How bad is it? For some young men, it can be safer to be in the U.S. military at war than living at home in the most violent neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Chicago.

This finding comes from a study my co-authors, Brandon Del Pozo and Aaron Chalfin, and I did to compare shooting rates in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles with casualty rates of U.S. military personnel during the recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our paper is published in JAMA Network Open, an open-source medical journal, and is freely available to read.


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