Few things concern people more than the safety of their kids. That’s probably why a popular talking point that has been adopted by the media, anti-gun organizations, and anti-gun politicians lately is that “guns are now the leading killer of children.”
For instance, Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke recently tweeted that “gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens in Texas.”
Similarly, Dr. Annie Andrews, who’s running for Congress to represent South Carolina’s First Congressional District, released an ad in which she claimed that “…guns are erasing our kids. They’re the number one killer of children in America.”
These are just a couple of examples, and no doubt countless more can be found amongst politicians and the gun control organizations that support them.
So, is what they are saying correct? Are gun-related injuries really the leading killer of children in America?
It largely depends on how you define “children.” Some people think of children as anything from toddlers through age 12. Others consider children to be anyone who isn’t 18 yet.
That distinction matters tremendously in discussing how many children die from gun-related incidents. That’s why it’s interesting when Mr. O’Rourke uses the phrase “children and teens”, because if you separate the two, then guns are certainly not the leading killer of children.
We can see this by examining the relevant data, which is publicly accessible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide very detailed statistics on public health, including data on underlying causes of death. This is found online through the CDC’’s WONDER tool, an acronym which stands for “Wide-ranging ONline Data for Epidemiologic Research.” All of the data I am about to discuss can be found and replicated through the WONDER tool.
We’ll include all gun-related deaths, meaning we will count homicides, suicides, legal interventions, and accidents, so long as they involved a firearm. The comparison won’t include deaths amongst infants who die from congenital abnormalities or other similar infant mortality, although it should be noted such deaths drastically exceed the gun deaths data we are about to see.
I’m also going to define “children” as anyone aged 0 to 17, at least initially. This is the most expansive definition possible without also covering adults in the count.
Indeed, that’s something astute readers should watch out for – many articles claiming record amounts of “children” dying from gun-related causes reach that conclusion by calling 18- and 19-year-old adults “children.” That’s exactly what this Axios article does, for example, to claim that 4,368 “children” were killed by guns.
The CDC WONDER data tells us that nationally, there were 2,281 gun-related deaths among children and teens ages 0 to 17 in 2020. This comes out to a per-capita rate of about 3.1 per 100,000.
So, are gun-related injuries the leading cause of death for people ages 0-17? If you exceed infant mortality as we’re doing, then yes…barely. Car accidents are just behind gun deaths amongst this age group — by 50 — at 2,231 deaths per the CDC data.
What’s readily apparent in the chart above, however, is that a majority of the 2,281 deaths come from teenagers ages 13-17 who, in 2020, accounted for a total of 1,859 gun-related deaths. When you narrow the data down to just ages 0 to 12, guns aren’t even close to the leading cause of death, as the gun-related death total in 2020 then falls from 2,281 to 422.
To be sure, 422 children dying tragically is far too many, but that figure should be taken in its proper context. For comparison, 640 kids in that that same age group drowned in 2020. Other causes of death that exceeded gun-related injuries for that age range in 2020 include suffocation (1,434) and car accidents (907).
Guns aren’t the leading killer of children under the age of 13, nor are they even all that close to the top of the list.
Perhaps some would argue I’m splitting hairs by excluding teenagers in this way. That’s a fair point. But I would respond that when anti-gun advocates talk about “children” dying due to gun-related injuries, they’re trying to evoke images of school shootings like the horrors of Uvalde, or accidents such as little Timmy finding his negligent father’s gun unsecured and accidentally killing a playmate.
What they probably do not want you to think about is teenagers killing other teenagers, predominantly through gang-related violence. Such violence disproportionately occurs in cities run by anti-gun politicians who are in turn backed by gun control organizations.
It’s no secret that gang violence harms African American teens much moreso than teenagers of other races. It’s thus sadly unsurprising that the CDC’s data on gun-related deaths also reflects this grim reality.
Of the 1,859 gun-related deaths among teenagers (ages 13-17), 784 of those deaths were among black teens. That’s about 42% of the total, or roughly three times higher than what it should be given black teens’ share of the overall population.
The shameful truth is that the risk of gun-related death is heavily dependent on race. According to the CDC, the per capita rates of gun-related death among the 13-17 age group in 2020 were:
2.3 per 100,000 for Asians or Pacific Islanders
5.8 per 100,000 for White/Caucasian
6.9 per 100,000 for Hispanic/Latinos
10.1 per 100,00 for American Indians or Alaska Natives
25.2 per 100,000 for African Americans
To summarize, gun-related injuries are the leading cause of death in children and teens combined. But that’s misleading, because they are certainly not the leading cause of death in children under age 13. Moreover, even for teenagers, the degree of risk of gun-related deaths differs greatly based on the race of the teenager.
Humiliatingly for our country, black teens are far and away more likely to die due to gun-related injuries — more than twice as much — compared to children of any other race or ethnicity. For non-black teens, car accidents are still the most common cause of death.
This should go without saying, but no child or teen should die a violent death, whether it’s due to a homicide, an accident, or self-harm. But the gun control industry, always in search of a pretext to limit a constitutional right, isn’t going to make that kind of distinction.
If they really cared about saving children’s lives, they’d focus their energy on reducing the allure of gangs, combating depression in teens, and educating all children about safe gun handling.
Konstadinos Moros is an Associate Attorney with Michel & Associates, a law firm in Long Beach that regularly represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association (CRPA) in its litigation efforts to restore the Second Amendment in California. You can find him on his Twitter handle @MorosKostas. To donate to CRPA or become a member, visit https://crpa.org/.