The United States is particularly bad at protecting children from gun violence: NPR
Brandon Bell/Getty Images
This week’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas, was another grim reminder that in the United States, where civilians own nearly 400 million guns, children are more likely to die from gun violence than in any other high-income country.
The killing of 19 fourth graders and two adults at Robb Elementary School has sparked an outpouring of grief and sadness across the country. It has also, once again, made many people wonder why the United States has not made meaningful changes to its gun laws following the horrific mass shootings that are now happening with regularity.
Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: All are names etched in the memory of the nation for the terrible violence that claimed the lives of students.
But the dangers young people face from guns in America go far beyond school shootings, which account for only a fraction of all gun-related deaths. Whether it’s the gun violence they face in their neighborhoods, suicides, or accidents at home when guns aren’t safe, the threat facing children and teens nationwide is not only serious, but is getting worse.
“It’s extremely scary,” says Ade Osadolor-Hernandez, 20, a rising junior at the University of Chicago and a member of the national advisory board for Students Demand Action. “It is extremely disappointing to see that we are still living in this state and that nothing is being done to save our lives.”
Guns are now the leading cause of death among young people in the United States
For decades, car crashes have been the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 19. But the gap between car accident deaths and gun deaths has started to narrow steadily in recent years. In 2020, gun violence overtook car crashes to become the leading cause of death among American children and teens.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that while gun-related deaths overall increased by 13.5% between 2019 and 2020, among children and adolescents they increased by 30%.
In the United States, children are more likely to die from gun violence than in other wealthy countries
For years, researchers at the University of San Francisco and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health have compared firearm death rates in the United States and other high-income, predominantly high-income countries. European countries.
Their most recent study, which examines data from 2015, finds that the United States accounts for the vast majority of firearm deaths among children. Across the 29 countries in the study, the United States accounted for nearly 97% of firearm deaths among children age 4 or younger, and 92% of firearm deaths among children ages 5-14. year.
And over time, the United States accounts for an ever-increasing share of those killed by firearms in these countries. The gun death rate in the United States increased by almost 10% between 2003 and 2015, even as it fell in other high-income countries.
Compared to countries of all sizes and incomes, the U.S. gun death rate ranks 32nd in the world, according to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. (Topping the list, which uses 2019 data, were El Salvador, Venezuela and Guatemala.) When the total number of gun deaths is counted, the United States ranks second in the world, after only Brazil, according to a study using data from 2016.
One of the factors for the high level of gun deaths in the United States is the massive number of firearms in the country: civilians in the United States own an estimated 393 million firearms, according to a study from the 2018 Small Arms Survey. This represents nearly 46% of the approximately 857 million firearms owned by civilians worldwide. This is a striking proportion, while the United States represents only 4% of the world’s population.
The number of gun-related deaths and injuries is on the rise
Five years ago, just under 4,000 children and adolescents under the age of 17 were killed or injured by gun violence, according to Gun Violence Archive. By the end of last year, that number had risen by 43% to 5,692. Some 1,560 of those children and teenagers had died.
So far in 2022, at least 653 children and adolescents in the United States have been killed by firearms. According to records, another 1,609 children and teenagers were injured by firearms.
According to an analysis by the National Safety Council, the highest rates of gun-related deaths are among people between the ages of 15 and 34.
Many weapons come from inside the house
In 2012, the Sandy Hook shooter used his mother’s guns to kill her, 26 children and school staff. In the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, the shooter used his father’s guns.
Research published last year and funded by the National Institute of Justice (a program of the US Department of Justice) suggests this is quite the norm. The analysis looked at mass shootings that took place from 1966 to 2019 and found that more than 80% of mass shooters at K-12 schools stole firearms from family members.
“The findings support safe gun storage,” the authors write. But as the analysis points out, “there are no federal laws requiring safe gun storage, nor federal standards for gun locks.” The NIJ said the data “also supports ‘red flag’ laws allowing law enforcement or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of a firearm. of a person who presents a danger”.
Most people killed by gun violence don’t die in mass shootings
The Uvalde massacre was the 27th school shooting in the country this year.
Although mass shootings tend to get the most attention, they are not the cause of most gun deaths in the United States.
In 2020, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or about 124 people per day. Of those, 54% were suicides and 43% murders, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Other gun-related deaths were unintentional, involved law enforcement or had undetermined circumstances, according to Pew.
In the same year, 513 people died in mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive – meaning that mass shootings accounted for about 1% of all gun deaths in 2020. The archives define a shooting of mass as a shootout in which four or more victims were shot, whether they were injured or killed.
According to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, an average of nearly 8,000 children and adolescents were shot and more than 1,600 died each year between 2015 and 2019. Of those who died, 52% were murdered, 40% died of suicide by firearm and 5% were killed unintentionally.
Youth suicide with guns is on the rise
An analysis by The Trace, a newsroom focused on gun violence, found a sharp increase in firearm suicide rates among young teens and twenties in the United States between 2011 and 2020.
“The firearm suicide rate more than doubled among black, Latino and Asian teens, while it increased 88% among Native Americans and 35% among white teens,” the analysis found.
A study published last year looked at 134 cases of suicide among children aged 5 to 11 in the United States between 2013 and 2017. Researchers found that guns were the second most common method of suicide. When firearms were used, in all cases where details were available, “the child obtained a firearm stored unsafely in the home,” according to the analysis.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images
Young people call to action
“Every time I walk into a classroom, the first thing I do is find the nearest exit,” says Osadolor-Hernandez, a UChicago student and gun violence advocate.
Instead of being focused on her teacher’s lesson, she finds herself constantly looking around to see if anyone looks suspicious.
“Every time someone puts their hand in their backpack, I get a sense of panic,” she says. “It’s extremely frustrating to have to feel that, and it’s extremely difficult to live with that reality.”
She says a lot of people seem to be growing more concerned about the issue. Now she wants to see the same from lawmakers: “We demand action from them and it’s time they listened to us and really, really changed the way this country works.”
Osadolor-Hernandez says she sees the heartbreaking numbers and the fears for future generations.
“I even wonder if I want to have children when I’m older,” she says, “because I want to put my children in a situation where they could be shot and I can’t live with them anymore? That’s a real fear that I live with every day of my life.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or Crisis text line by texting HOME to 741741.