a new low

Guns Are Now The Leading Cause Of Death In Children

Gun deaths rose over 29 percent in a single year, surpassing vehicle crashes as the leading killer of children and teens.

Originally Published: 
Pictured behind wet glass, a child, now more likely to be killed by a gun than any other cause, cove...

In 2020, 4,300 children in the United States were killed by guns. For the first time ever, this number is greater than the number of children killed in motor vehicle crashes. Gun violence increased across the population, but the 29.5% increase among those under 20 was more than double that of the overall increase.

In a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers Jason E. Goldstick, Ph.D., Rebecca M. Cunningham, M.D., and Patrick M. Carter, M.D., of the University of Michigan, presented their grim analysis of the latest CDC data on causes of death in children and adolescents.

The majority of gun deaths were homicides, not suicides. The rate of firearm homicides among people of all ages increased by 33% from 2019 to 2020.

The rate of gun homicides in the United States is 25 times higher than the rate of firearm homicides in other developed countries.

While the rate of gun deaths rose among kids ages 1-19 in all demographic sub-groups, more males than females were killed, and Black children were more likely to die than white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native children. Black children were the only demographic group whose rate of death by firearms exceeded 15 per 100,000.

One explanation for this increase is the surge in gun ownership during the pandemic. According to a study published in February by the Annals of Internal Medicine, between January 2019 and April 2021, so many people bought guns that more than 5 million kids and teens under the age of 18 became newly exposed to these weapons.

At the same time, there were only 10 school shootings recorded in 2020 — in large part because schools were closed for a significant part of the year. In 2021, mass shootings in educational institutions are on the rise again.

It’s also important to note that over the past 20 years, the rate of children dying in car crashes has steadily decreased — and that fewer people drove during the 2020 pandemic year. Deaths by gun violence, on the other hand, rose from 2013-2017, with a sharp uptick in 2020 bringing them above car crash deaths.

“Motor vehicle crashes were consistently the leading cause of death for children and adolescents by a fairly wide margin, but by making vehicles and their drivers safer, these types of fatalities have drastically decreased over the past 20 years,” said Carter, co-director of the U-M Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, in a press release.

“Injury prevention science played a crucial role in reducing automobile deaths without taking cars off the road,” explained Carter. “We have a real opportunity here to generate a similar impact for reducing firearm deaths.”

Quantifying the number of deaths, however, doesn’t reveal the full scope of the devastation.

“For every fatal firearm injury, there’s a bunch of nonfatal firearm injuries,” Goldstick, associate professor at U-M School of Public Health, told NBC News. “There’s not really great data on nonfatal shootings in the U.S.” Nonfatal does not mean minor, of course, and many of these injuries are life-altering.

Gun violence has a devastating impact on children and their families. This new data proves that it is more urgent than ever that we demand industry regulations to protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

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