Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
February 28, 2014
Firearms will soon be the leading killer of young people between the ages of 15 and 24—more than disease, accidents and suicide. This startling statistic is in spite of falling violent crime rates and spiraling rates of gun homicide.
For the last two decades, motor vehicle accidents have been the leading cause of death for young people. However, gun deaths are not far behind. The statistics for 2010 are startling: 6,201 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were killed by guns, while 7,024 people in the same age group were killed in motor vehicle accidents.
According to a report prepared by the Center for American Progress, if current trends continue, next year gun deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds are projected to outnumber car accident deaths.
This somber statistic seems to be in stark contrast with national rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes. Gun deaths are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s, paralleling a general decline in violent crime, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.
Despite the attention to gun violence in the last year as a result of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., most Americans are unaware that gun crime is substantially lower than it was two decades ago. A Pew Research Center survey last spring found that 56 percent of Americans believed the number of crimes involving a gun was higher than it was 20 years ago—only 12 percent said it was lower.
Generally, violent crime has steadily declined in recent years. As for gun violence, since the peak of gun homicides in 1993, the firearm homicide rate has literally been cut in half. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75 percent lower in 2011 than in 1993, according to Pew Research and Demographic Trends.
The fact that firearms will soon be the leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds raises concern. Every year, about 2.5 million Americans die from all causes, and very few of them—less than 3 percent—are under the age of 25. But when you consider gun deaths, a different pattern emerges. According to the Center for American Progress, more than one in five individuals killed by guns in 2010 was under the age of 25.
In 2010, the third highest cause of death for 15- to 25-year-olds was suicide, and again, guns played a large role, accounting for 45 percent of those deaths.
The contrasts with other age groups are stunning. Homicide was the fifth leading cause of death for 35- to 44-year-olds, although more than two-thirds by firearm, and homicide was not even in the top 10 for individuals ages 45 to 54.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to acknowledge the concern of guns and young people in a way only the Supreme Court can. The court refused to hear two cases that dealt with the Second Amendment and young people.
The two cases were filed by the National Rifle Association. In one case the NRA challenged a law prohibiting federally licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to anyone under the age of 21. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the law and the Supreme Court will not review that decision.
In the second case, also unsuccessfully challenged by the NRA, the Fifth Circuit upheld a Texas law that prohibits 18- to 20-years-olds from carrying firearms in public.
More must be done to deal with this disturbing and embarrassing trend. Policymakers have effectively used research and evidence-based practices to reduce the number of young traffic fatalities. We would do well to take the same approach with young people and gun fatalities.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” is due out this summer. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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