Gun-related deaths among school-age children in the United States are increasing at alarming rates, researchers report.
In 2017, gun violence claimed more 5- to 18-year-olds than police officers or active-duty members of the U.S. military, according to a chilling new study led by investigators from Florida Atlantic University.
“It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms,” study senior author Dr. Charles Hennekens said in a FAU news release. He’s a professor of medicine at the university’s Schmidt College of Medicine.
The nationwide study found nearly 39,000 gun-related deaths among 5-to-18-year-olds between 1999 and 2017. That included almost 6,500 deaths among kids between 5 and 14 years of age, and more than 32,400 among older teens.
Significant increases began in 2009, with a wave of shootings among 5- to 14-year-olds, followed by a similar wave among teens starting in 2014. Both waves — which researchers described as epidemics — continued through 2017, the most recent year for which data are available.
Gun-related deaths over the period accounted for 5.6 percent of deaths in the younger group and nearly 20 percent among older kids.
Researchers also found statistically significant increases in gun-related deaths among black children aged 5-14, starting in 2013.
Hennekens likened attempts to halt the epidemic without gun control to trying to curb lung cancer deaths due to cigarettes without reducing tobacco use.
The analysis of data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics also looked at causes of death among school-age children. It said 61 percent were the result of assault; 32 percent were from suicide; 5 percent were accidental; and 2 percent undetermined.
Blacks accounted for 41 percent of all deaths, and 86 percent were in boys.
The authors said the findings, published in the American Journal of Medicine, reveal significant public health and policy challenges.
The most effective way to prevent firearm-related injury to children is to keep guns out of homes and communities. Firearms should be removed from the environments where children live and play, but if they are not, they must be stored locked and unloaded. Safe storage practices can reduce the risk of death or injury, but loaded firearms and unloaded firearms and ammunition represent a serious danger to children.
Roughly a third of U.S. homes with children have guns? In fact, nearly 2 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns. Parents may not realize what a serious injury risk a gun in the home is, especially for children.
Even young toddlers are capable of finding unlocked guns in the home, and they are strong enough to pull the trigger. Unintentional shootings happen to children of all ages. At least 285 children got ahold of a gun and inadvertently shot themselves or someone else in 2017. Adolescents, in particular, are at a higher risk for suicide when there is a gun in the home. In fact, a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than a burglar or other criminal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that the safest home for a child is one without guns. The most effective way to prevent unintentional gun injuries, suicide and homicide to children and adolescents, research shows, is the absence of guns from homes and communities.