GUNSFirearms Kill More Children Than Car Crashes: Report

Published 26 April 2022

Latest CDC data show that guns now kill more children than any other cause, but health care interventions show promise for prevention.

Gun violence in the United States has increased to the point that it now kills more children than any other cause, including car accidents, and pediatricians may not be entirely prepared.

While health care providers are taught to recognize and treat many public health crises, including the opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the obesity crisis, violence related to firearms has not always been seen through that lens.

In an analysis of the most recent data available through the CDC, clinical researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina revealed that firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death among children under 19, and the racial gap between black and white youth is widening. The article, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, calls for physicians and other health care workers to recognize this as an epidemiological and public health challenge and to help find solutions.

Annie Andrews, M.D., a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at MUSC, led the charge to describe the most up-to-date statistics on firearm-related injuries and death to set the stage for efforts to find evidence-based solutions.

“When I became a pediatrician, I never thought that I would care for so many children who had been shot,” Andrews said. “It’s not something that you think about when you consider what a pediatrician does, but as a hospital-based doctor for the past 12 years I’ve seen it happen again and again. And I started to get really worried about this.”

When Andrews and her team looked at the data, they saw that gun-related deaths in children surpassed deaths caused by motor vehicle collisions beginning in 2019. And while the death rate due to car accidents has steadily declined since 2001, the firearm death rate has continued to climb, with increased homicide and suicide rates driving a 14% total increase over the last two decades.

But the team also noted a large gap in risk based on race: the overall firearm-related death rate was more than four times higher for black children than for white children, and the homicide rate was over 14 times higher for black children.

“One of the really striking things that we were able to highlight was the health inequities embedded in pediatric firearm injury,” said Andrews. “We’re reporting here that it became the number one cause of death for children in 2019, but for decades it’s already been the leading cause of death for black children in this country.”