Flying bullets now kill more black males between the ages of 15 and 19 than any other cause of death in the United States, the government reported Tuesday.

For all youths ages 15 to 19, firearms are the second-leading cause of death behind traffic accidents, according to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics.The report found that a gun is by a wide margin the murder weapon most favored among teens, and that the number of young black males killed by gunfire is increasing at a faster rate in the major metropolitan areas of the country.

In the decade from 1979 to 1989, the number of homicides by firearms for all youths ages 15 to 19 increased by 61 percent, while the number of homicides with other weapons actually declined by 29 percent, the study found.

"The increase observed in the total homicide rate among (this age group during the decade) resulted solely from increases in firearm homicides," said the study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers said the reasons for the increase were relatively easy to spot: "crack cocaine, changes in the types and lethality of firearms, urban poverty and a myriad of sociologic factors."

Among all 15-to-19-year-olds in the central counties within major metropolitan areas, the study found, the firearm homicide rate was 27.7 per 100,000 people, a rate four to six times higher than in less-populated counties.