A New Study about Guns and ‘Children’

by Robert VerBruggen

Pediatrics has published a new study from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control entitled “Childhood Firearm Injuries in the United States.” It’s straightforward, but worth reading if you care about homicide, suicide, and accidental death in this country. It covers nonfatal injuries in addition to deaths, and it explains how these incidents break down in terms of demographics, geography, and circumstances.

It also, unfortunately, seems designed to spur misleading news stories. Some of the statistics group together every gunshot victim age 17 and under; others group together those 0–12 and 13–17.

The problem is that most of us don’t see 16- or 17-year-olds as “children,” and that’s where the deaths are overwhelmingly concentrated, even within the “older children” (13–17) group. So while media coverage of the study leads off with gun accidents killing toddlers and third-graders, the actual gun-death data (which I pulled myself from the CDC’s online system) look like this:

(Those are annual rates of firearm death per 100,000, with the data combined from 2012–2014, as in the study.)

Every child death is worth preventing, and gun owners with kids absolutely should store their weapons securely. But America’s gun problem is overwhelmingly about homicides and suicides among teens and adults, not about young children finding their dads’ Glocks, and inversely, firearms are far from the biggest risk that young kids face. Kids ten and under are more than three times as likely to drown as to die from a gunshot (accidental or otherwise), for example, and more than four times as likely to die in a car accident.

Accidents involving children may draw attention to the gun issue, but they’re quite far from that issue’s heart.

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