Guns Became Leading Cause of Death for U.S. Children and Teens in 2020

More than 4,300 people ages 1-19 died of firearm-related injuries in 2020 — a 29.5% increase from 2019.

Guns Became Leading Cause of Death for U.S. Children and Teens in 2020

(Photo: Milan, Adobe Stock)

Guns killed more U.S. children and teens in 2020 than vehicle crashes, drug overdoses, or cancer, according to a research letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers from the University of Michigan’s (U-M) Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention (IFIP) analyzed updated official mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found more than 4,300 people ages 1-19 died of firearm-related injuries in 2020 — a 29.5% increase from 2019 and more than twice as high as the relative increase in the general population. These deaths include incidents of suicide, accidental shootings and homicides.

Firearm-related deaths among all Americans were up 13.5%, totaling 45,222 deaths. This change was largely driven by firearm homicides, which saw a 33.4% increase. Homicides made up the majority of firearm deaths among children and teens, and most who were killed by firearms were 14 and older.

A study published in February found gun ownership increased during the pandemic, according to NBC News. As a result, more than five million children under 18 became newly exposed to guns in their households from Jan. 2019 to April 2021.

Jason Goldstick, a research associate professor at U-M and co-author of the letter, said the CDC’s mortality data does not encapsulate the full scale of gun violence among kids and teens.

“For every fatal firearm injury, there’s a bunch of nonfatal firearm injuries,” he said. “There’s not really great data on nonfatal shootings in the U.S.”

Figure 1. Leading Causes of Death among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 1999 through 2020. (Source: University of Michigan)

Drug overdoses and poisoning also increased by 83.6% among children and adolescents, becoming the third leading cause of death. The rates of other leading causes of death have remained relatively stable since the previous analysis, says the letter, which “suggests that changes in mortality trends among children and adolescents during the early Covid-19 pandemic were specific to firearm-related injuries and drug poisoning.” COVID accounted for 0.2 deaths per 100,000 children and adolescents in 2020.

The number of car-related deaths — the former leading cause of death among children and teens — has dropped drastically over the last 20 years. Patrick Carter, associate professor of emergency medicine at U-M and co-author of the letter, said motor vehicle deaths have fallen due to car safety improvements and research that documents ways to make highways safer despite an increase in cars on the road, USA Today reports.

“Changing behavior, improving the safety of the vehicle, improving the roads and educating our drivers better — that’s all through evidence-based-driven research,” Carter said. “What we have seen with firearms is that we haven’t been able to — until just recently — apply that same type of evidence-based research to the problem of firearms.”

“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,” Goldstick echoed.

About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Senior Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

In her free time, Amy enjoys exploring the outdoors with her family.

5 responses to “Guns Became Leading Cause of Death for U.S. Children and Teens in 2020”

  1. JT Mure says:

    While I love the articles and information in this journal generally this particular article and especially the headings are very misleading. People 18 and 19 are not kids. I do agree with the incredible increase in gun violence in this country the statistics don’t lie but you don’t need to try and make a skewed point by titling the article something misleading. The article heading states children and teens but in the area you click on to go to this article you state “children”. Please do better in the future.

    • Amy Rock says:

      Hi JT,

      Where in the article are you referencing? Any time I used the world children, it was followed by “and teens” or “and adolescents,” which encompasses people within the 1-19 age group. After reviewing the article again, it seems the only instance the word children isn’t followed by teens or adolescents is when referencing children under 18.

      Thank you,

      Amy

  2. Chris Jasper says:

    Amy, its in the title of the article “More than 4,300 people ages 1-19 died of firearm-related injuries in 2020 — a 29.5% increase from 2019.”

    JT is right, 18/19 are not children and are in a age group which uses guns in much of the gang related criminal activity. Remove that 18/19 yr old data set and I bet the stats drastically fall. But then, the number of children injured would be even smaller, and that doesn’t fit the liberal narrative of guns being “bad”.

    Maybe if we taught gun safety to children in schools like we used to in the 40’s through the 70’s we wouldn’t have these issues, or maybe if there were fathers in the homes like in the 40’s through the 70’s. Maybe we stop the woke teaching of 8 yrs old’s about sexual orientation, transition, or some other sex related topic and instead spend that time teaching them gun safety we would see smaller numbers of children being injured by firearms.

    • Amy Rock says:

      Hi Chris,

      I respect your opinions, no matter if I agree or not. My guess would be the argument for including people ages 18 and 19 in these statistics is because the researchers are looking to include the full age range of the average person who lives in a home supervised/led by an adult. Most kids are 18 when they graduate high school — some 19 — so including that age range encompasses the majority of people who still live with an adult.

  3. EdF says:

    First off I own guns and consider marksmanship a skill and a sport not a passion or an obsession . I served my first tour in Vietnam when I was 19-20 years old.It was shortened by one month by an angry North Vietnamese Soldier with a grenade that almost killed me.All of the 950 Marines on that Operation that were killed or wounded were children.Most of us were under the age of 20.The hair splitting of an adolescent skewing a statistic because of 1 or 2 years of age is absurd.Because of increasing lackluster gun laws and politics we have started an arms race. There are too many guns in the hands of people who are not even qualified to handle a butter knife.Many States have passed so called Constitutional Carry Laws where any nitwit can conceal carry a weapon with out a permit or training.I could go on but it just gets worse.

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