On this Christmas Eve pause for a moment between the eggnog and gift wrapping to consider that gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children, according to The New York Times.
For much of the nation’s history, disease was the No. 1 killer of children. Then America became the land of the automobile, and by the 1960s, motor-vehicle crashes were the most common way for children to die. Twenty years ago, well after the advent of the seatbelt, an American child was still three times as likely to die in a car accident as to be killed by a firearm. We’re now living in the era of the gun.
The gun-death rate for children is nearly five in every 100,000. It was flat for more than a decade starting in 2000, and most years fewer than three in every 100,000 children were killed by guns. In 2014, the rate began to creep up, and by 2020 guns became the leading killer.
Last year was a particularly violent one: 3,597 children died by gunfire, according to provisional statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate from guns was the highest it has been in more than 20 years. While the statistics for this year are incomplete, it is clear that the carnage has not receded.
In May, the nation watched as horror unfolded in Uvalde, Texas. Yet another school ripped apart by bullets — yet another group of children to mourn. Yet another shooting in a long line of school shootings. And though the number of school shootings has recently risen to the highest level on record, the overall picture is so much worse; these shootings account for less than 1 percent of the total gun deaths suffered by American children.
No group of American children has been spared, but some have fared far worse. Last year, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths involving children — 2,279 — were homicides. Since 2018, they have increased by more than 73 percent. Most homicides involved Black children, who make up a small share of all children but shoulder the burden of gun violence more than any others, a disparity that is growing sharply.
The number of children who die by suicide with a gun has also risen to a historical high over the last decade. Last year, suicides made up nearly 30 percent of child gun deaths — 1,078.
Unlike homicides, suicides disproportionately involve white children, mostly teenage boys. A decade ago, the number of white children who killed themselves with a gun totaled around 500 annually; in three of the last five years, that figure has surpassed 700.
Gun accidents that kill children have also ticked up in the last decade, though they are relatively uncommon, totaling fewer than 150 in most years.
God bless you and let's resolve to save our children this New Year.
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