Texas massacre underscores a grim statistic: gun violence is the leading cause of death among American children

Health officials warn that gun violence remains a ‘serious public health threat that must be addressed’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 25 May 2022 23:40 BST
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The massacre of 19 young children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has underscored the growing public health threat from gun violence among American children.

In 2020, firearm-related injuries surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death among US children and adolescents, according to recent analysis from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 2019 and 2020, the relative increase of firearm-related deaths among children – including homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings – was 29.5 per cent, more than twice as high as the increase among the general population. That spike reflects 4,368 Americans under the age of 19 who died from gun violence in 2020.

In 2020, the most recent year for which such data is available, there were 19,384 gun homicides in the US, the most since at least 1968, and another 24,000 people killed themselves with firearms, bringing the total number of gun-related deaths to more than 45,000.

“The increasing rates of firearm mortality are a longer-term trend and demonstrate that we continue to fail to protect our youngest population from a preventable cause of death,” according to Jason Goldstick, research associate professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine, who co-authored the report.

Co-author Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research at University of Michigan, said “firearm violence is one of the most critical challenges facing our society, and based on the latest federal data, this crisis is growing more and more intense.”

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, said in a statement on 25 May that the massacre in Uvalde serves as another grim reminder that gun violence remains a “serious public health threat that must be addressed.”

For more than two decades, gun-related deaths were second only to car accidents as the leading cause of death among children, but that gap has been narrowing since 2016, as the proliferation of safety technology and use of seat belts has helped reduce the fatality rate of motor vehicle crashes.

“Injury prevention science played a crucial role in reducing automobile deaths without taking cars off the road, and we have a real opportunity here to generate a similar impact for reducing firearm deaths through the application of rigorous injury prevention science,” said report co-author Patrick Carter, associate professor of emergency medicine and of health behavior and health education.

The state of Texas, however, has some of the most lenient gun laws in the US, with a rate of gun death comparable to that of Illinois, and per capita rates of gun homicides that are nearly double those in California and triple those in New York.

Gun homicides in the state have increased more than 90 per cent over the last decade, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

In 2021, Governor Greg Abbott signed a law ending a requirement that Texans obtain a license to carry a handgun, meaning virtually all people ages 21 and older can purchase a firearm.

The state also allows residents to carry rifles in public without a permit.

The massacre in Uvalde on 24 May follows several lethal massacres in the state, including a pair of shootings at the Fort Hood military base in 2009 and 2014, and mass shootings at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and in a Walmart in El Paso in 2019.

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