Gun violence is now the number one cause of death in children
Currently, the number one cause of death in children & teens ages 1-19 is gun violence and injury. Motor vehicle accidents used to be the primary cause of death, but not anymore.
Researchers found that firearm-related deaths overall increased 14% between 2019 and 2020. Among children & adolescents firearm related deaths soared a staggering 30%.
Five years ago, just under 4,000 children & teens up to the age of seventeen were killed or injured by gun violence, according to the “Gun Violence Archive.” By the end of 2021, that number was up 43% to 5,692. Twenty-five percent of these children & teenagers died.
Murder and suicide in children and teens
Unintentional shootings happen to children of all ages. In homes with guns, the likelihood of accidental death by shooting is four times higher. In 2020, there were at least 369 unintended shootings by children in the U.S. resulting in 142 deaths.
Kids & adolescents are at an increased risk for suicide when there is a gun in the home. Suicide rates in children and adolescents are four times higher than for kids who live in homes without guns.
In the past decade, 40% of the suicides committed by kids & teens involved guns. Ninety percent of these suicides were with guns that the victims accessed at their own homes or from a relative’s home.
Recent data shows a sharp rise in firearm suicide rates among young people in their teens & twenties. The firearm suicide rate doubled among Black, Latino, & Asian teenagers. The suicide rate increased by 88% for Native Americans & 35% for white teens.
The risk of homicide is three times higher when there are guns in the home. Not only that, but 58% of shooting deaths in children & teens are homicides.
According to the “Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence,” nearly 8,000 children & teens on average were shot & more than 1,600 died yearly between 2015 & 2019. Of those who died, 52% were murdered, 40% died from gun suicide, & 5% were killed unintentionally.
The dangers young people face from firearms in America go well beyond school shootings, which account for only a fraction of all gun-related deaths, & these rates are worsening.
School shootings involving children
Even though school shootings account for only a fraction of all gun-related deaths they are worsening.
The Uvalde massacre was the 27th school shooting in the U.S. this year. It was the second worst in number of people killed.
Research published last year & funded by the National Institute of Justice, examined mass shootings from 1966 to 2019. They found that over 80% of mass shooters at K-12 schools stole guns from family members.
Though mass shootings tend to get the most attention, they are not the cause of most firearm deaths in the U.S.
Mass shootings are linked to domestic violence. At least 53 percent of mass shooters in the last decade shot a current or former intimate partner or family member during their rampage.
Of the 362 children & teens killed in all mass shootings in the past 12 years, 72% died in an incident connected to intimate partner or family violence.
Assault weapons and children
When assault weapons & high-capacity magazines were used in mass shootings, they resulted in far more deaths & injuries.
In the last decade, the five deadliest mass shooting incidents in the US all involved the use of assault weapons &/or high-capacity magazines: Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown, Sutherland Springs, & El Paso. Add Uvalde to this list.
Mass shooters often display warning signs before the violence. Sometimes they engage in recent acts or threats of violence or violate a protection order. These warning signs present opportunities for intervention that could save lives.
Practical Solutions are possible
Based on these facts, there are some practical solutions that parents can expect &/or politicians can deliver:
- Keep guns away from young people, whether through safe storage of firearms in a home or age restrictions on purchasing. When guns are stored safely – locked & unloaded, with ammunition stored separately in a locked location, children are the safest. “Child Access Prevention Laws” have helped in some states.
- Require that a gun purchaser go through a licensing process, including a background check.
- Prohibit people from buying guns from unlicensed sellers, including strangers they meet online.
- Create so-called “Red Flag” laws: legally prohibit certain people from possessing firearms because they had a felony conviction, had been decided mentally ill by a court of law, or had a domestic violence restraining order. (One third of mass shooters fit this category.)
- Create state bans on buying large-capacity magazines or ammunition-feeding devices for semiautomatic weapons. This has worked to reduce deaths from mass shootings in some states.
- Ban the sale of semi-automatic assault rifles. Assault weapons (“machine guns” or weapons of war) are high-powered, semi-automatic firearms designed to fire rounds faster than most other firearms, & with high-capacity magazines, they enable a shooter to fire a devastating number of rounds quickly.
- Develop a data-backed, mental health-based approach that could identify & address the next mass shooter before he pulls the trigger.
My brief review does not delve into the mental trauma that faces children who survive gun violence. To start your understanding there, please see “Children Under Fire: An American Crisis” by John Woodrow Cox.
If you found this review of the facts around guns & children helpful, please share it with a friend or family member. If we all work together, we can change this horrible situation.