ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Firearms have surpassed cars as the leading cause of death among both children and adolescents living in the United States, according to sobering new research by a team at the University of Michigan.
Study authors set out to quantify the leading causes of death in the U.S. among individuals under the age of 19. Their analysis, made possible thanks to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealed firearm-related deaths in connection to kids and adolescents increased by an astounding 29 percent between 2019 and 2020.
“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,” says study co-author Jason Goldstick, research associate professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine and of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health, in a university release.
“Recent investments in firearm injury prevention research by the CDC and National Institutes of Health, in addition to community violence prevention funding in the federal budget, are a step in the right direction, but this momentum must continue if we truly want to break this alarming trend.”
This latest work concerning gun violence in the United States in relation to children suggests a worrying upward trend in overall firearm violence nationwide. However, the research team is hopeful that their work can help policymakers and community groups alike better identify potential solutions to this major national issue.
Automobile deaths down ‘drastically’ thanks to ‘injury prevention science’
Over 4,300 U.S. adolescents (ages 1-19) died due to firearms in 2020. That figure includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional deaths. Meanwhile, car accidents played a role in 3,900 deaths among children and adolescents in 2020.
It’s also worth noting that deaths linked to drug poisoning also increased considerably in 2020, by more than 83 percent to reach over 1,700 deaths in total. Drug-related fatalities are now the third-leading cause of death among children.
“Motor vehicle crashes were consistently the leading cause of death for children and adolescents by a fairly wide margin, but by making vehicles and their drivers safer, these types of fatalities have drastically decreased over the past 20 years,” explains study co-author Patrick Carter, co-director of the institute and associate professor of emergency medicine and of health behavior and health education.
“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.”
Guns are killing people of all ages across America
Including adults, over 45,000 Americans died due to gun violence in 2020. That’s a 13-percent increase in comparison to 2019. Study authors note that this national surge was largely driven by gun-related homicides, which increased by over 33 percent between 2019 and 2020. Gun-related suicides increased by one percent.
“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,” concludes study co-author Rebecca Cunningham, U-M vice president for research and the William G. Barsan Collegiate Professor of Emergency Medicine.
“As a nation, we turn to scientific evidence to prevent injuries and deaths, and firearms should be no different. Michigan has incredible expertise in this space, and we will continue to use our collective knowledge to create safer and more vibrant communities nationwide.”
The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
This article was first published April 25, 2022.