Nearly 1,300 children under the age of 17 die from gunshot wounds every year and nearly 5,800 are injured, a new comprehensive survey finds.
And that’s probably an underestimate, because gun deaths are not always consistently reported, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Most of these deaths are not accidents, the CDC team found in their report, published in the journal Pediatrics. More than half — 53 percent — are homicides and another 38 percent are suicides.
The older the children, the higher the rates.
“Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of death overall among U.S. children aged 1 to 17 years, surpassing the number of deaths from pediatric congenital anomalies, heart disease, influenza and/or pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory disease, and cerebrovascular causes,” Katherine Fowler of CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention and colleagues wrote.
“They are the second leading cause of injury-related death in this age group, surpassed only by motor vehicle injury deaths.”
Children are rarely hurt or killed by guns in other developed countries, the researchers pointed out. More than 90 percent of all children aged up to 14 who are killed by guns in high-income countries are killed in the U.S., they noted.
The team looked through CDC data on deaths in the U.S. for their study. “This article provides the most comprehensive examination of current firearm-related deaths and injuries among children in the United States to date,” the team wrote.
Related: The Faces of Child Gun Victims
The numbers may look different from other studies, in part because the CDC classified children as those 17 and younger. Some other studies include people up to age 20 or 21, and rates of gun injuries in older teens and young adults are much higher.
“Older children (aged 13–17 years) had a rate of fatal firearm injury that was more than 12 times higher than the rate for younger children (aged 0–12 years),” the researchers wrote.
Also striking is the effect of race.
“African American children have the highest rates of firearm mortality overall,” they wrote. Black children are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than white children, they found.
They found a 60 percent increase in gun suicide rates since 2007.
Kids who have access to guns are more likely to be killed by suicide than those who don’t have guns, probably because guns are far more likely to kill rather than injure the victim. Children and teenagers who try to kill themselves usually do so on the spur of the moment, the researchers noted.
“Suicides are often impulsive in this age group, with previous findings indicating that many who attempt suicide spend 10 minutes or less deliberating,” they wrote.
So having a gun makes it easy to carry through on the decision.
“Child firearm suicides were most often precipitated by acute crises and life stressors such as relationship, school, and crime problems,” the researchers wrote.
“Programs that help children and youth manage emotions and develop skills to resolve problems in relationships, school, and with peers can reduce adolescent suicidal behavior and improve help-seeking and coping skills. These types of programs have also demonstrated preventive effects on peer violence and dating violence among teenagers.”