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Half of all Chicagoans will witness a shooting by age 40, study finds

JAMA researchers found the numbers are even more stark when broken down along racial barriers.

Published: May 13, 2023 11:12pm

(The Center Square) -

A new Journal of the American Medical Association study finds that more than half of all Chicagoans will witness a shooting by age 40.

Researchers found the numbers are even more stark when broken down along racial barriers, with over half of all Black and Latino study participants by that age having already witnessed such an occurrence, compared to one-fourth of all white participants.

"We expected levels of exposure to gun violence to be high, but not this high,” study author Charles Lanfear, an assistant professor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, told “Our findings are frankly startling and disturbing. A substantial portion of Chicago’s population could be living with trauma as a result of witnessing shootings and homicides, often at a very young age."

Researchers said the average age for witnessing a shooting was 14 years old, with women only slightly less likely than men to have undergone such a dark experience. Data also shows men were much more likely to be gunshot victims.

The study tracked more than 2,000 Chicagoans over 25 years, from childhood and adolescence in the 1990s to the start of middle age, with individuals who moved away from the city continuing to be tracked and the overwhelming majority of the gun violence incidents that were witnessed taking place on city streets.

Researchers added some of the participants actually became victims, with about 7% of all Black and Latino participants becoming gunshot victims by age 40, compared to 3% of white participants. The average age for being shot was 17.

Researchers also called attention to areas of all the gun violence, finding that in recent years rates of shootings within a 250-meter radius of where Black participants lived were over 12 times higher than for areas around the homes of white participants. In the case of Latino participants, the rates of shootings were roughly four times higher than white participants.

"The long-term stress of exposure to firearm violence can contribute to everything from lower test scores for school kids to diminished life expectancy through heart disease," Lanfear added.

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