Guns are now the leading cause of death for American children, surpassing car crashes

  • New data is consistent with evidence that shows gun violence rose during Covid, comes days after mass shooting in Texas school
  • Black children are four times more likely to die as a result of firearms than white kids, and boys are six times more likely to be killed than girls
Agence France-Presse |

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Across the US, individuals and gun control advocates are protesting and demanding that politicians take action after an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. New reports say that guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the US. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Guns have surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death among American youngsters, with official data showing a strong rise in gun-related homicides, such as the killing of 19 children in a Texas school rampage.

Overall, 4,368 children and adolescents up to the age of 19 died from firearms in 2020, a rate of 5.4 per 100,000, according to a dashboard by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Homicides made up nearly two-thirds of the gun deaths.

By comparison, there were 4,036 deaths linked to motor vehicles, the previous leading cause of death among this age group.

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The gap has been narrowing as road safety measures have improved over the decades, while gun related deaths have risen.

The trend lines crossed in 2020, the latest year for which data is available – a finding identified in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) last week.

The letter’s authors noted the new data was consistent with other evidence that gun violence rose during the Covid-19 pandemic, for reasons that aren’t fully clear, but “it cannot be assumed that (it) will later revert to pre-pandemic levels.”

Flowers are placed on a makeshift memorial in front of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 25, 2022. The tight-knit Latino community of Uvalde was wracked with grief on Wednesday after a man marched into the school and killed 19 children and two teachers, in the latest spasm of deadly gun violence in the US. Photo: AFP

The newly updated CDC dashboard shows that nearly 30 per cent of the deaths were suicides, just over three per cent were unintentional, and two per cent were of undetermined intent.

A small number were categorised as “legal intervention,” meaning the individual was shot and killed by law enforcement.

The deaths disproportionately impacted Black children and adolescents, who were more than four times as likely to die as white children – for whom motor vehicles still posed a greater threat.

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The second group most impacted by guns were Native Americans, followed by white Hispanics.

Boys were six times likelier to die by a gun than girls.

By region, the gun-related death rate was highest in the US capital of Washington DC, followed by the state of Louisiana, then Alaska.

“Since the 1960s, efforts have been directed toward preventing deaths from motor vehicle crashes,” wrote the authors of another recent letter to the NEJM, contrasting the situation with that of firearms, where regulations have been loosened.

The issue of gun control has long been debated in the US, especially following the rise in mass shootings in the country. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

While vehicle safety has been spearheaded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is no equivalent agency to regulate gun safety. Historically, very little government research funding has been assigned to the area because of Republican opposition.

Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of leading journal “Science,” published an editorial on Thursday calling for more research into the public health impacts of gun ownership to advance policy change.

“Scientists should not sit on the sidelines and watch others fight this out,” he wrote.

“More research into the public health impacts of gun ownership will provide further evidence of its deadly consequences,” he continued, arguing that severe mental illness, often blamed for mass shootings, was prevalent at similar levels in other countries that do not have regular mass shootings.

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