May 26, 2022 - Health

Guns have become the leading cause of death for American kids

Deaths per 100,000 children, by cause
Data: CDC; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Firearms were the leading cause of death for kids one and older for the first time in 2020, the most recent year for which CDC data is available.

Why it matters: The firearm death rate among children is steadily rising, as more kids are involved in gun-related homicides like Tuesday's mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as well as suicides and accidents.

By the numbers: Nearly two-thirds of the 4,368 U.S. children up to age 19 who were killed by guns in 2020 were homicide victims, per the CDC. Motor vehicle crashes, formerly the leading cause of death for kids one and older, killed nearly 4,000 children.

  • Another 30% of firearm-related child fatalities were suicides, 3% were accidental and 2% were of undetermined intent.
  • Male youths were significantly more likely to be killed by guns, while vehicle crashes claimed more females.
  • There were also stark racial disparities. The firearm death rate for Black children was more than four times that of white children, and white children were still more likely to be killed by motor vehicles than guns.
  • D.C. had the highest firearm death rate, followed by Louisiana, Alaska and Mississippi.
States with highest firearm deaths per 100,000 children in 2020
Data: CDC; Note: States with unreported or unstable data not included; Includes unintentional, violence-related and undetermined firearm deaths; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Of note: Among children younger than 1, congenital anomalies — or birth defects — were the leading cause of death in 2020, resulting in 4,043 fatalities, per the CDC.

What they're saying: "As the progress made in reducing deaths from motor vehicle crashes shows, we don’t have to accept the high rate of firearm-related deaths among U.S. children and adolescents," researchers recently wrote in a New England Journal of Medicine article that highlighted the trend.

  • The study noted that while the National Highway Safety Administration could take the lead addressing road-traffic fatalities, firearms are one of the few products whose safety isn't regulated by a designated federal agency.
  • It has taken 20 years to build a database of firearm-related deaths that includes data from all 50 states, the researchers wrote.

The bottom line: School shootings have become tragically common in the U.S., but constitute only a small fraction of gun deaths among children.

Go deeper