Is gun violence the leading cause of death for children?

“Gun violence is the leading cause of child deaths. »

White House press releaseJanuary 25

“Gun violence is the leading cause of death of America’s children – the leading cause of death – not car accidents, not any form of cancer – gun violence. »

— Vice President Harris, remarks to the United States Conference of MayorsJanuary 19

Deaths from gun violence, after remaining relatively stable from 1999 to 2014, have increased in recent years, reaching a peak of 48,830 in 2021, according to data kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But has gun violence become so horrific that it is now the leading cause of death among children?

The Biden White House, on various occasions, has made this assertion. But the source cited in the White House press release – a Study 2022 by the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University – reports data with a broader scope. It cites gun deaths of “children and adolescents,” meaning it includes deaths of 18- and 19-year-olds, who are legally considered adults in most states.

If we focus only on children aged 17 and under, road accident deaths (broadly defined) remain at the top, as they have been for six decades, although the gap is widening. reduces quickly. Indeed, child deaths from gun violence increased by about 50% between 2019 and 2021, according to CDC data. During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an increase in gun sales and an increase in the use of guns in suicide deaths, particularly among children in rural areas.

There is no doubt that 18 and 19 mark the final years of adolescent life, but there is also broad consensus around the world that 18 is a threshold age between childhood and adulthood .

The National Institutes of Health, for grant applications, defines a child as “a person under the age of 18”. The European Union has a similar definition. The UN, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, says “a child means any human being under the age of eighteen years”.

All but three states set the age of majority at 18 years. Alabama and Nebraska set it at 19, while Mississippi set it at 21. In the United States, you gain the right to vote and the right to join the military at the age of 18.

Moreover, federal law allows the purchase of shotguns and rifles – including semi-automatic weapons – at age 18. Twenty-two states have set the minimum age to purchase a rifle at 21, according to Everytown for Gun Safety — the same minimum age to buy a handgun.

For the purposes of this fact check, the fact that in more than half of states people as young as 18 can purchase guns is significant, because access to guns increases the risk of violence . Six years ago this month, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people. He legally purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 semi-automatic rifle at an authorized dealer a few kilometers from the school.

Indeed, the inclusion of 18- and 19-year-olds adds a new category of firearm deaths: death by “lawful intervention,” which generally means a shooting by law enforcement. Each year, that represents about 12 to 25 deaths in the gun death data in the 18 to 19 age group.

Besides deciding whether to include 18- and 19-year-olds, there are different ways to analyze the numbers on the CDC's Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), which may modify the results. To keep it simple, because we are focusing on recent years, we will use raw numbers. A death rate (e.g. per 100,000 people) is best for examining trends over time as the U.S. population continues to grow.

Excluding children under 1 year old. The Johns Hopkins study cited by the White House, which was updated in 2023and another often cited studypublished in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2022 and updated a previous study, do not include children under 1 year of age because they have perinatal deaths and birth defects – unique, age-specific risks of death. This decision slightly reduces the number of children killed by firearms, to less than 1 percent. But it significantly reduces the number of deaths from road accidents, by up to 4 percent.

Use a broader or narrower definition of vehicle fatalities. The CDC lists both deaths due only to traffic-related accidents and an overall motor vehicle category that would include pedestrian and other deaths, such as deaths in a stationary car. Using traffic-related accidents alone further reduces the number of motor vehicles by up to 11 percent, depending on the year. The New England Journal of Medicine article uses the broadest definition, but the Johns Hopkins reports rely only on motor vehicle accidents.

“There is no 'right answer,' I suppose, but having to choose only one reasonable alternative from two reasonable alternatives, we chose the more inclusive definition,” said Jason Goldstick from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, co-author of the New England Journal of Medicine study. “Both could be criticized, but we certainly didn't want to be seen as choosing the narrowest definition in service of an unscientific goal. »

Here's how these decisions affect the numbers.

Including 18- and 19-year-olds, excluding infants under one year old, and comparing gun deaths to vehicle crashes alone, Johns Hopkins reports that in 2021, there were 4,733 deaths by firearm “of children and adolescents”, compared to 4,048 deaths due to motor vehicles. crashes.

But counting only children 17 and younger, including infants under 1 year old, and comparing with all motor vehicle-related deaths, CDC data shows that in 2021, there are had 2,590 child gun deaths, compared to 2,687 motor vehicle deaths.

Excluding infants under 1 year of age from the data narrows the gap to a close tie: 2,580 deaths from motor vehicles compared to 2,571 from firearms. If one focuses solely on vehicle crashes, as Johns Hopkins does, then as of 2020, firearm deaths have exceeded motor vehicle deaths among children ages 1-17.

Regardless, the CDC shows that gun deaths have increased rapidly since 2019, so unless current trends reverse, child gun deaths will exceed gun-related deaths very soon to motor vehicles – no matter how you divide the numbers.

There is also no doubt that such a large number of child gun deaths is unique to the United States, compared to similarly large and wealthy countries. No gun deaths are among the top four causes of death among children, according to a 2023 study from KFF, a health policy organization. The U.S. death rate is nearly 10 times that of Canada, which among its U.S. peers has the second-highest gun death rate among children and adolescents. There are so few child gun deaths in other countries that they rank 15th as a cause of death in Japan and Britain, and 13th in Germany and the Netherlands , indicated KFF.

“CDC analysis of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence data from 2022 and 2023 shows that gun violence is the leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 17 as well as adolescents ages 18 and 19. » Cassandra Crifasi, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement. “The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions includes 18- and 19-year-olds in this age range to group children with adolescents as defined by the World Health Organization and the New England Journal of Medicine. Regardless of age group, gun violence claims far too many lives. It's our job to work to prevent these deaths in the first place.

A White House official said it was common for such research reports to include 18- and 19-year-olds in the data. He noted that the Washington Post, in writing about one of those reports, used the term “children” in the headline, even though the report covered gun deaths of children and teenagers.

For accuracy, it would be best if White House officials were referring to children. And adolescents citing these reports. When all traffic crashes are taken into account, motor vehicle deaths continue to exceed firearm deaths among children – defined as people under the age of 18 – regardless of whether infants are included or not. No.

The result changes if only traffic accidents are considered, but it is probably prudent to take a more conservative approach, as the New England Journal of Medicine does. The data is horrific enough – and the United States is such an outlier – that the toll on gun violence speaks for itself.

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