Racial Disparities in Child Exposure to Firearm Violence Before and During COVID-19

Martin, R., Rajan, S., Shareef, F., Xie, K. C., Allen, K. A., Zimmerman, M., & Jay, J. (2022). Racial disparities in child exposure to firearm violence before and during COVID-19. American journal of preventive medicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2022.02.007


Introduction: Childhood exposure to neighborhood firearm violence adversely affects mental and physical health across the life course. Study objectives were to (1) quantify racial disparities in these exposures across the U.S. and (2) assess changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, when firearm violence increased.

Methods: The study used counts of children aged 5-17 years, disaggregated by U.S. Census racial category, for every census tract (N=73,056). Neighborhood firearm violence was the number of fatal shootings per census tract, based on 2015-2021 Gun Violence Archive data. Quasi-Poisson regressions were used to estimate baseline disparities and COVID-19‒related changes and examined differences across geographic regions.

Results: Prepandemic exposure was lowest among White children and highest among Black children, who experienced 4.44 times more neighborhood firearm violence exposure (95% CI=4.33, 4.56, p<0.001) than White children. The pandemic increased exposure by 27% in the lowest risk group (i.e., White children; 95% CI=20%, 34%, p<0.001), but pandemic effects were even greater for children in nearly all non-White categories. Baseline violence levels and racial disparities varied considerably by region, with the highest levels in the South and the largest magnitude disparities observed in the Northeast and Midwest.

Conclusions: Large-scale racial disparities exist in child exposure to neighborhood firearm violence, and these disparities grew during the pandemic. Equitable access to trauma-informed programs, community-based prevention, and structural reforms are urgently needed.