School-age children are increasingly dying after being injured with guns, with firearms now the United States' second-leading cause of death in 5- to 18-year-olds.
After 19 children and two teachers were killed and 17 others were wounded in May at a school in Uvalde, Texas, researchers set out to investigate firearm deaths of school-age children in Texas over a 21-year period ending in 2020.
They found significant increases.
From 1999 to 2020, 4,090 school-age children in Texas died in firearm incidents. Though rates dropped from 1999 to 2013, they surged in the years that followed.
“The increasing rates from firearm deaths in the U.S. among school-age children are not unique to Texas. These rapidly increasing rates have been noted across the entire country,” said senior study author Dr. Charles Hennekens, a professor of medicine at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
“It is sobering that, in 2020, more than 4,500 U.S. school-age children were killed by firearms compared with 45 police officers who were killed in the line of duty,” Hennekens said in a university news release.
From 2013 to 2020, rates were highest among non-Hispanic Black children, followed in order by non-Hispanic white children, Hispanic youngsters, and Asian and Pacific Islander children, according to the analysis of federal government data.
For Black children and Hispanic children, the gun-related deaths were largely homicides. For white children, suicide was the biggest cause. Black children between 5 and 14 years of age experienced statistically significant increases in firearm-related deaths beginning in 2013, the researchers found.
Racial disparities in firearm-related deaths saw a sharp uptick between Black children and white children in the 5- to 18-year-old group between 2013 and 2017.
The rates were statistically significant for boys, Black children, white children and Hispanic children, as well as those in and around metro areas. They were also statistically significant in counties with a military base and in Mexican border areas.
The uptick in firearm-related deaths began in 2009, the study showed. The first wave was among 5- to 14-year-olds. A second began in 2014 among 15- to 18-year-olds.
Each wave continued through 2017, the most recent year for which U.S. death data were available.
Overall, nearly 6% of deaths involving 5- to 14-year-olds and 20% of those in 15- to 18-year-olds were gun-related, according to the study.
Hennekens said further study is needed. Meanwhile, there are important clinical, public health and policy challenges, he added.
“Combating the epidemic of death due to firearms among school-age children without addressing firearms is analogous to combating the epidemic of death from lung cancer due to cigarettes without addressing cigarettes,” Hennekens said.
The findings were recently published in the Texas Public Health Journal, a quarterly publication for members of the Texas Public Health Association.
The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics has more on gun deaths by state.
SOURCE: Florida Atlantic University, news release, Oct. 11, 2022