Victims of violent crimes involving firearms are more likely to report severe psychological distress compared with victims of crimes involving other weapons, according to an observational study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, Davis, reviewed cross-sectional data from the nationally representative National Crime Victimization Survey to evaluate the association between firearm-related violent crime and severe distress and issues with social function. Participants of the survey were aged 12 years or older and had experienced a violent crime up to 6 months before interview.

The survey relied on self-report to determine whether a weapon was involved in the incident. Study investigators compared violent victimizations involving firearms (n=715) with crimes involving a different weapon (n=1054) or no weapon (n=5350). Survey participants reported whether they experienced distress or dysfunction in their social life, including school and work, after the event.

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Approximately 26% of survey respondents reported experiencing severe distress after a victimization, whereas 27% of participants said they experienced problems with friends or family or at work or school. Compared with victims of violent crimes involving other weapons, victims of firearm-related victimizations were significantly more likely to report having severe distress after the incident (prevalence ratio, 1.27 [95% CI, 1.06-1.51]).

In addition, firearm-related victimization was associated with severe distress more often than victimization involving no weapons (prevalence ratio, 1.63 [CI, 1.38-1.93]). There was no significant difference among groups in regard to social functioning.

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The findings from this study are limited by the reliance on self-reported distress data. In addition, the study was unable to determine whether distress-related responses were associated with the incident in question or another event.

“These findings suggest that firearm violence has unique negative effects on mental health in addition to well-understood effects on physical health,” the researchers concluded. “They also highlight the emotional costs that might be avoided by investing in efforts to prevent firearm violence.”


Kagawa RMC, Cerdá M, Rudolph KE, Pear VA, Keyes KM, Wintemute GJ. Firearm involvement in violent victimization and mental health: an observational study [published online June 19, 2018]. Ann Intern Med. doi: 10.7326/M18-0365