For the first time since 1999, car accidents are not the number one killer of children. Guns are now the biggest killer of kids in the U.S. According to data in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 19, 2022, the number of firearm-related deaths among children increased by 13.5% from 2019 to 2020. This was driven by an increase of almost 34% in the number of children murdered by guns. Gun-related suicides increased by 1.1% during this time.
Car accidents remain the second leading cause of death for children and adolescents, followed by drug overdoses and poisonings, which were grouped together in the dataset. Overdoses and poisonings increased by a staggering 83.6% from 2019 to 2020. There is speculation that the dramatic increase in firearm violence and overdoses/poisonings during this timeframe is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The crossing of these trend lines [gun violence and car accidents] demonstrates how a concerted approach to injury prevention can reduce injuries and deaths — and, conversely, how a public health problem can be exacerbated in the absence of such attention,” wrote lead author, Jason Goldstick Ph.D., a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “As the progress made in reducing deaths from motor vehicle crashes shows, we don’t have to accept the high rate of firearm-related deaths among U.S. children and adolescents.”
The number of firearm-related deaths among children and adolescents has been increasing since 2016. But gun violence isn’t just an issue for kids. In 2020, the number of firearm-related deaths for any age group reached more than 45,000 per year for the first time in the U.S. This makes guns the 13th most common cause of death overall and one of the only genuinely preventable causes of death within the top 15.
“The increasing firearm-related mortality reflects a longer-term trend and shows that we continue to fail to protect our youth from a preventable cause of death. Generational investments are being made in the prevention of firearm violence, including new funding opportunities from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, and funding for the prevention of community violence has been proposed in federal infrastructure legislation,” Goldstick wrote in the letter, adding, “This funding momentum must be maintained.”
Despite his pledge to address the “epidemic” of gun violence in the U.S., President Biden has not made much headway in the murky and controversial arena of gun control since his inauguration. Recently, Biden announced his nomination of former federal prosecutor Steve Dettelbach to fill the role of Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, an agency that has been without a confirmed director since Obama-appointed B. Todd Jones stepped down as director to work with the National Football League in 2015.
In addition to Dettelbach’s nomination, Biden has also announced a change in laws regarding so-called “ghost guns” — firearms that are manufactured from kits and have no serial numbers, making them untraceable. Under the new law, it will be illegal to manufacture or sell guns without serial numbers and to sell guns without performing a background check first.
“These guns are weapons of choice for many criminals. Law enforcement is sounding the alarms. Our communities are paying the price. And we’re acting,” President Biden said during an address earlier this month. Of the previously untraceable firearms, he added, “All of a sudden, it’s no longer a ghost; it has a return address. And it’s going to help save lives, reduce crime, and get more criminals off the streets.”
After the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed at least 19 students and two teachers, Biden once again announced his intent to take action of gun control. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?” he said during a speech from the White House. “It’s time to turn this pain into action.”
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