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Gun Deaths: Urgent Public Health Crisis Affecting Children & Teens

As the school years ends for children and teenagers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is calling for unity to help parents and pediatricians prevent gun injuries and death. In June, the AAP will participate in National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend (June 3-5) and other campaigns to raise awareness of this important public health crisis.

During the pandemic, firearm death increased rapidly, by 28% from 2019-2020, the most recent data available, from 7,947 gun-related deaths in 2019 among children and young people, ages 24 and younger, to 10,197 in 2020.

Mass shootings & kids killed every day

"Often following mass shootings, like recent shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, there is national outrage about the tragedy and calls for answers. Unfortunately, many more children, teenagers and young people are dying every day in shootings that don't make the national news or start a national debate," said Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH, FAAP.

"We as a country need to take a public health approach that mixes safe storage of guns at home to keep them out of the hands of children and teenagers and common-sense legislative approaches that reduce the incidence and impact of community violence," Dr. Lee said.

Gun injuries now leading cause of death for kids

For decades, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death among young people. In 2017, after decades of safety improvements in automobiles and increasing numbers of guns in homes across the country, guns became the most common cause of death.

"Gun injuries are the most common cause of death for children," said Dr. Lee, incoming chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. "However, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful that we can change this trend. Just as years of hard work by legislators, doctors, auto manufactures, activists, engineers, and families lowered auto-related injuries and death, gun injuries can also be reduced."

In 2020, the murder rate with handguns was the highest it has been in 25 years. According to CDC data, between 2019 and 2020, the firearm homicides increased by 35%, and among children and young adults, there was a 38% increase firearm-related murders from 2019-2020 from 4,608 in 2019 to 6,360 in 2020. And 85% of all homicides of this age group were committed with a gun.

The AAP recommends:

  • That pediatricians address firearm safety as part of its routine care for families with children of all ages. The AAP offers pediatricians training and resources that help them have productive conversations about how best to store firearms to protect children and young people.

  • Firearms are a highly lethal method of suicide with a mortality rate around 90 percent. Adolescents can be impulsive and, just as adults do, sometimes suffer quietly with depression and anxiety. The presence of a gun in the home of an adolescent increases the risk of suicide even in the absence of a psychiatric diagnosis, but it is especially critical to remove guns from the homes of teens who are depressed.

  • If there are guns in the home, evidence shows that the risk of injury or death is greatly reduced when they are stored unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked in a separate place.

  • If there are guns in the home, families can also consider storing them outside the home to decrease access by children and youth in the household.

  • Ask about guns. Research shows that even when they've been trained not to touch guns, children are curious and will pick up a gun if they find it. Make sure, wherever your child is going this summer for playdates and fun, that there are no unsecured firearms. Remember to ask other parents, just as you would about food allergies, if there is a gun in the home and how it's stored. If you don't like the answer, invite their child over to your home to play.

The Academy is urging lawmakers to advance policies to protect children, families and communities from gun violence. AAP is calling on lawmakers to:

  • Enact universal background check legislation to ensure that those who are most likely to perpetrate gun violence cannot purchase guns.

  • Enact comprehensive extreme risk protection orders legislation, which allows family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person deemed at risk of harming themselves or others.

  • Fund gun violence prevention research at $60 million, with $35 million for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $25 million for the National Institutes of Health.

More information

6/2/2022 12:00 AM
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2022)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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