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National Violent Death Reporting System - Tracking Data To Prevent Violent Death


More than 50,000 Americans suffer a violent death each year. The majority are caused by firearms.  Despite this staggering loss, most communities lack essential, coordinated data about the circumstances of these deaths—information that could help prevent this loss of life.

The National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) is a state-based surveillance system that collects facts from different sources about the same incident. The information—from death certificates, police reports, and coroner or medical examiner reports—is pooled into a useable, anonymous database. NVDRS collects data on deaths caused by suicide, homicide, child abuse, and domestic violence as well as those from accidental discharge of firearms. NVDRS data are used by state and local violence prevention practitioners to guide their prevention programs, policies and practices, and by researchers to identify trends and patterns in violence, and help devise strategies for prevention.

The Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention Program supported the development of NVDRS, which was piloted at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and is now housed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Today, the CDC works with Joyce grantee, The American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM) to promote the value of NVDRS among public health officials, policy makers and the research community.  Currently, NVDRS collects data on violent deaths from 42 participating states.

NVDRS data recently shed light on the growing disparity in homicide rates for African Americans in Chicago, IL. The report, released in July 2016, analyzed 2005, 2010 and 2015 data in the City of Chicago. The data show that:

  • Overall, there were 468 homicides recorded in the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System (IVDRS) for the City of Chicago in 2005, 476 in 2010 and 512 in 2015.
  • The homicide rates per 100,000 people in the City of Chicago were 17.32, 17.64, and 18.81 in 2005, 2010 and 2015, respectively.
  • The homicide rates among African Americans increased significantly from 2005 to 2010. While no statistically significant changes occurred over time in the rates of homicide among either Caucasians or Latinos.
  • The rate for blacks in Chicago jumped from 36.1 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 46.5 a decade later.
  • The vast majority of homicides across all demographic groups were committed with guns; nearly 90 percent of the homicides in 2015 involved firearms and people ages 20 to 24 had the highest homicide rate in 2015, with 64.3 killings per 100,000.

NVDRS data also has been critical in understanding the characteristics of suicide victims.  A 2009 study of NVDRS data  described how the United States leads most developed countries in the proportion of suicides involving firearms, with firearms representing 52.1% of all suicides in 2005. Several studies have found that easy accessibility of firearms is a risk factor for suicide. This study used NVDRS data to compare the precipitating circumstances of suicide victims who used a firearm with those who used another method.  Researchers concluded that firearm suicide victims did not have longstanding mental health or substance abuse problems for which they sought help. Rather, the choice of a firearm as a suicide method tended to be precipitated by stressful life events, including recent crises and relationship problems. The study also found that older people were particularly disposed to use firearms to commit suicide. Other recent studies include an analysis of the role of alcohol in suicide deaths, and an examination of the risk factors associated with firearm suicide by older men.

NVDRS has also been used to quantify the problem of unintentional firearm fatalities in the U.S., and to raise concerns about the accuracy of state vital statistics databases. Researchers found that state databases miscode cases in which one person unintentionally shoots another as a homicide, rather than an accident.  The study concludes that official mortality data are an unreliable source of unintentional firearm deaths, while NVDRS data reflect much greater accuracy and consistency.

The Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention Program supports NVDRS because access to data and sound research on gun violence is critical to the development of effective public policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. Research supported by the Joyce Foundation also helps to understand and explain the link between access to firearms and suicide, the risk firearms pose to children, and the sources of illegal guns.

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