PHILADELPHIA — Following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children died at Robb Elementary School, a new study reveals that gun violence involving children has increased at an astounding rate over the last decade. However, these numbers differed significantly across states with stronger and weaker gun laws.
Researchers from the University of Toledo and New Mexico State University found that gun death rates per 100,000 American children increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2019. Death by suicide among children rose by a staggering 63 percent during this 10-year period.
The numbers also revealed an increase in gun deaths among girls (46%), children in the Southern U.S. (52%), non-Hispanic whites (45%), and of non-Hispanic Black children (36%).
“The significant differences in the state-by-state data provide an opportunity for states with high mortality rates to evaluate the trajectory of increasing gun deaths,” says study co-author Dr. James Price from the University of Toledo in a media release.
Do strong gun laws make a difference?
Previous studies have looked at the number of gun deaths among children across the nation, but many did not break those figures up by state, region, age, race, or the circumstances of the deaths. Researchers say four states that did not have an upward trend in gun violence affecting children, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California. These states also have strong laws which try to prevent children from getting their hands on firearms.
The states that saw a 70-percent increase in child-related gun violence include South Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and Indiana.
“Four of these states do not have child access prevention laws and two have weak laws,” says Dr. Price.
Researchers were unable to predict a trend among 18 states because they had too few incidents over the 10-year period. However, the study authors say their findings do point to a pattern.
“The message is clear: States with more guns have more gun homicides, suicides, and unintentional deaths. States with strong laws that limit access have fewer gun deaths. While solutions proposed by most legislators show a lack of knowledge about the research in this area, we hope the leaders of the 26 states with increased firearm mortality will take heed of these findings,” explains Dr. Price.
Price adds that better access to mental health resources and better storage of firearms by adults is a necessity to stem child suicides.
Are mass shootings the biggest issue in America?
Much of the nation’s focus has centered on school shootings on the heels of the Uvalde massacre. However, Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, study co-author from the Department of Public Health Sciences at New Mexico State University, notes that mass school shootings comprise less than five percent of all child firearm deaths.
“More than 10 children die of firearms in communities every day, most taking place away from schools. We must address the problem at a broader level, with a more comprehensive approach to policies, prevention practices, and clinical interventions,” says Dr. Khubchandani.
Dr. Stuart Chipkin, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Medicine Open, says states need to work together to curb gun violence involving children.
“For a problem this tragic, it would be overly simplistic to think that geography is the only variable to consider. Beyond what states can accomplish, we need to consider possibilities including cooperation between states or national oversight programs. Gun manufacturers can and should be brought to the table to contribute ways to maximize safety. Thinking ‘outside the box’ of state borders will be important to create sustainable reductions in youth mortality. Rather than a map of high and low mortality rates, collaborative approaches should be emphasized as a way to create a map in which pediatric deaths from gun violence are minimal across the country,” says Dr. Chipkin.
Firearms were the leading cause of death among children in 2020.
The study is published in the American Journal of Medicine Open.