Fatal shootings and firearm injuries among America’s youth have risen drastically over the past 10 years while deaths from car accidents continue to decrease, according to a troubling new study published this week.
Researchers found that gun deaths for children and teenagers rose by nearly 90% between 2011 and 2021, even as auto accident fatalities dropped by almost half. More alarming, the data show over 2,500 kids and teens were killed by guns just last year alone.
“Those of us who do this work, those of us who work in children’s hospitals are not at all surprised to see these numbers. And the most frustrating thing about this as a pediatrician is that these deaths and injuries are preventable,” said Dr. Annie Andrews, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Andrews said while many households may keep guns for recreation or protection from intruders, numerous studies have consistently shown that having a firearm in the home dramatically increases the risk of homicide and suicide, especially among youth.
Mental Health Crisis Driving More Youth Suicides
The rise in child and teen gun deaths comes amid a growing mental health crisis in America, particularly among younger populations. Andrews explained that impulsive behavior combined with high rates of depression and anxiety have led to a staggering 85% increase in firearm suicide rates among young people.
“If they have a passing impulse to harm themselves, and in that moment of the passing impulse, they also have access to an unsecured firearm, that impulse can turn lethal in a matter of seconds,” Andrews said.
State-Level Data Reflects National Trend
Troubling state-level statistics reflect the alarming national trend. In Kentucky, for example, about 91% of all homicide deaths among 1 to 17 year-olds in 2020 involved firearms, according to a report by Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Preventable Deaths Taking Devastating Toll on Families, Communities
Dr. Andrews emphasized that the tragic loss of so many young lives to preventable gun violence takes an enormous toll on families and communities across the country.
“As a doctor, there is no greater pain than telling a parent that their child has died from a gunshot wound. The anguish is unimaginable,” said Andrews. “We simply must do more to keep guns securely stored and out of the hands of children.”
Secure Gun Storage Campaign Urges Safety Conversations, Action
In response to the escalating public health crisis, the Be SMART For Kids initiative is urging parents to start normalizing conversations with kids about gun safety and take simple actions to reduce access, like locking up firearms and storing ammo separately.
The campaign’s acronym “Be SMART” outlines five easy steps for keeping guns secure:
- Secure guns in homes and vehicles by locking unloaded firearms with ammunition stored separately.
- Model responsible behavior and teach kids to stay away from guns.
- Ask about unsecured guns in other homes where kids play. If guns are unsecured, have a conversation with the gun owner.
- Recognize the risks of teen suicide and trauma from unlocked guns.
- Tell peers to securely store their guns to help prevent child access.
Parents can visit BeSMARTforKids.org to find more resources on safe storage, talking to children about guns, and actions to prevent unintentional shootings, homicide and suicide among youth.
As child gun deaths reach alarming levels nationwide, experts agree proactive safety measures, open conversations and proper gun storage can help reverse this preventable crisis plaguing America’s kids.