Personal conflicts biggest cause of murders in U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first systematic, in-depth look at murder and suicide in the United States shows that personal conflicts are the major factor in such deaths, as opposed to random violence or other crime.

A revolver lies on the floor in Tegucigalpa July 15, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Guns are the most commonly used weapons in both murders and suicides, according to the analysis of data from 2007 released on Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The pattern that stands out the most is we see a lot of intimate partner violence, mental health problems and substance abuse,” said the CDC’s Debra Karch, who led the study.

While police and politicians may stress crime-fighting to try to lower murder rates, the study suggests that equipping people to better handle conflict may be more effective.

Karch and colleagues started collecting their data in 2003 and it so far covers just 16 states, so she says it cannot yet be used as either representative of the United States as a whole, or as a basis for predicting trends.

The researchers go beyond death certificates or police reports to try to find all the factors involved in a violent death, including substance abuse, personal problems and relationships.

The CDC estimates that 50,000 people die violently every year in the United States. Homicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, for 15- to 24-year-olds and the third leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14, with suicide following right after in both age groups.

"For homicides and suicides, relationship problems, interpersonal conflicts, mental-health problems, and recent crises were among the primary precipitating factors," Karch and colleagues wrote in their report, availablehere.

Some of the findings from the report:

* Firearms were used in more than 50 percent of suicides, with hanging or suffocation accounting for 23 percent and poisoning 18 percent.

* Firearms were used in 66 percent of homicides and 80 percent of murder-suicides.

* Suicide rates were higher among people aged 45 to 54 -- a shift from previous years when the highest rates of suicide were among those over 80.

* Murder rates were more than three times higher among males than females. One third of women who were murdered were killed by a current or former spouse or partner, compared to five percent of men killed by intimate partners.

* Blacks made up the majority of homicide deaths and had the highest rate of homicide of any racial or ethnic group.

* Military suicides were frequently linked to a physical health problem.