Almost 1,300 children die from gunshot wounds annually in the United States—with boys and African American children accounting for most of those deaths, according to study published Monday in Pediatrics.
For the study, CDC researchers reviewed data from the National Vital Statistics System and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System to evaluate fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries that occurred among U.S. children ages 0 to 17 from 2002 to 2014. The researchers looked to determine the circumstances, demographic characteristics, intent, trends, and state-level patterns associated with the injuries.
Findings on firearm-related injury rates
The researchers found that, between 2012 and 2014:
- An average of 15.5 U.S. children under the age of 18 received treatment in a hospital's ED for a gunshot wound each day, equaling an average of 5,790 U.S. children and adolescents annually; and
- An average of 3.5 U.S. children under the age of 18 died from a gunshot wound each day, equaling an average of 1,287 U.S. children and adolescents annually.
According to the Los Angeles Times' "Science Now," these figures make firearms second only to motor vehicle crashes in terms of injury-related deaths among U.S. children.
Findings related to demographics and trends
Gunshot-related deaths and injuries disproportionately affected boys, older children, and minorities, the researchers found.
The researchers said fatal firearm injury rates for children ages 13 to 17 were 12 times higher than the rate for children ages 0 to 12. According to the study, the majority of the firearm-related deaths occurred among boys between ages 13 and 17.
In addition, the researchers found that African American children had the highest rates of firearm-related deaths overall, which the researchers attributed largely to the difference in homicide rates between racial and ethnic groups. The researchers also identified an increase in the number of firearm-related suicides that occurred among U.S. children from 2012 to 2014, particularly among Native American and white children, who had the highest rates of firearm-related suicides.
Findings related to circumstances and intent
Among the firearm-related deaths, researchers categorized:
- 53 percent as homicides;
- 38 percent as suicides;
- 6 percent as unintentional; and
- 3 percent as related to law enforcement or undetermined.
In terms of the firearm-related injuries, the researchers categorized:
- 71 percent as assaults;
- 21 percent as unintentional;
- 5 percent as related to law enforcement or undetermined; and
- 3 percent as self-harm.
Findings related to state-level patterns
The researchers found rates of firearm mortality varied by state. For example, several states from 2010 to 2014 reported 20 or fewer firearm-related deaths among children, including:
- Maine; and
- New Hampshire.
In contrast, the District of Columbia and Louisiana reported the highest rates of firearm-related deaths from 2010 to 2014. Other states with comparatively high rates of firearm-related homicides included:
- South Carolina; and
Katherine Fowler, an analyst in CDC's Division of Violence Prevention and senior author of the study, said, "These are preventable injuries." She added that several strategies—such as outreach initiatives, emotion management, and suicide-prevention programs—could help to prevent these injuries.
Alex Piquero, a criminology researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas who was not involved in the study, said, "It is important to note that firearm injuries and especially deaths are typically not isolated events." He added, "They often tend to co-occur with other crimes, whether gang-related, drug involved or other serious criminal activities, and for many of these crimes boys tend to be overrepresented compared to girls."
Ruth Abaya of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who was not involved in the study said, "Children are curious, and research tells us that they know more about the location of guns in the home than parents might assume." She continued, "Simply instructing kids about safe handling is not sufficiently protective," adding that parents ideally should store guns outside the home, or keep them unloaded, locked, and in a safe.
Eliot Nelson, a researcher at the University of Vermont Children's Hospital in an editorial accompanying the study wrote that the impulse children have to attempt suicide might pass if they are not able to easily access guns. He said, "Too many people assume that if (youngsters) didn't have a gun they'd use something else, but the quick lethality of guns makes them especially dangerous for an impulsive teen whose moment of crisis might pass with a little time"(Rapaport, Reuters, 6/19; Healy, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/19; Howard, CNN, 6/19; Rossman, USA Today, 6/19).
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