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It’s the guns – and they are killing our children

Most Americans want stricter gun laws because they think gun violence is increasing across the country, but finding ways to prevent such violence divides the electorate even further and leaves American children caught in the crosshairs.

Why are more U.S. kids dying? No. it’s not COVID.

 It’s the guns – and they are killing our children.

Gun violence is the number one killer of American children and adolescents, and it has increased at an unprecedented rate over the last two years.  

Firearms accounted for about half the increase (20%) in mortality rates that occurred among children aged 1 to 19 between 2019 and 2021.

An alarming rise in mortality rates for kids

At an April 21st EMS briefing on the alarming rise in mortality rates of children and adolescents, Dr. Steven H. Woolf, Professor of Family Medicine and Population Health Virginia Commonwealth University warned this tragic trend basically means the probability of young people reaching age 20 is now decreasing and our children are less likely to become adults.

This tipping point defies gains made in modern medicine over the past 50 years.

“Our children are dying from preventable causes,” added Mayra Alvarez, President of the Children’s Partnership. These are man-made reasons why our children are dying, not biological.”

Children are dying in greater numbers in their communities.

Between 2019 and 2021, child mortality rose by 10.7% in one year, and 8.3% in the following year, the largest increase in decades.

Dr. Woolf is one of many voices highlighting this dangerous trend. The four causes of death largely responsible for this increase are homicide, suicide, drug overdoses, and car accidents.

Suicide rates began increasing in 2007 in this population and homicide rates in this age group began increasing in 2013. 

But between  2019 and 2021, deaths in those ages 10 to 19 increased by 39% for homicides, 114% for drug overdose deaths, and 16% for car accidents.

Firearms played a dominant role in this increase, they accounted for about half of the increase in all-cause mortality that occurred at ages one to 19. Firearm deaths at ages 1 to 19 increased by 41%,” said Dr. Woolf.

Homicide is the leading type of gun deaths among children, regardless of the age of the child,” stated Kim Parker of the Pew Research Center.

But the death toll from guns that are actually shifting all-cause mortality is not occurring in mass shootings or school shootings, explained Dr. Woolf.

“It’s occurring, day by day, in communities across this country that collectively are adding up to this massive death toll that’s affecting our children’s mortality.”

What concerns parents

Place and setting really determine the level of concern parents have about the dangers of gun violence, said  Kim Parker of the Pew Research Center.

In a 2022 Pew study, nearly half of parents surveyed expressed concern about the possibility of their children getting shot, with 22% of parents expressing extreme concern. Parents in urban areas and at lower income levels (40%) expressed higher levels of concern. Almost 70% of parents were somewhat concerned about a school shooting.

Hispanic parents (42%) topped the list followed by a third of black parents expressing that same level of concern. White and Asian parents were lower at 23% and 12% respectively.

Guns at home

Twenty years of research proves having a gun in the home increases the risk of a gun-related death explained Dr. Woolf.  During the pandemic, more people bought guns to protect themselves from perceived threats, following advertising and marketing tactics by gun manufacturers and the NRA.

“But it’s not actually a real threat,” he cautioned.

Storing guns in the house is a greater risk factor because families are being killed by those guns. 

“If a child is going to die, and anyone in the family is going to die, a gun-related death is more likely to occur because of the gun that’s already inside the house,” he added.

“It’s about the guns. It’s always about the guns,” says Alvarez.

She called for improved gun safety and common-sense gun reforms that would allow children to live in homes and communities where they can grow into adults and thrive.

Mental health? Video games?

Parents are understandably worried about the insidious effects of violent video gaming and social media on their children. However, research into the relationship between video games and aggression has not proved that a strong relationship exists between the two.

“But the difference is that in the United States, there’s this access to firearms,“ said Kelly Sampson of Brady United.

The lack of U.S. regulations and easy access to firearms means that someone going through a mental health crisis, or who might be racist, or is just angry, “can get access to a firearm and kill people. The access is really key” argued Sampson.

There is a mental health crisis among young people. “The fact that suicide rates were increasing as long ago as 2007, is an indication along with other factors that we need to really address the kinds of depression, anxiety, and other mental stresses that our young people are facing these days,” warned Dr. Woolf. “They’re leading not only to fatal outcomes like suicide but a lot of morbidity from psychiatric and mental health issues.”

Why is it happening?

The ongoing gun violence crisis has its roots in America’s longstanding gun dependency and ongoing white supremacist culture said Sampson. In many ways, this is what makes U.S. society an outlier among other countries.

Sampson pointed out that the Supreme Court has taken a departure from centuries of precedent to turn the Second Amendment from a civic right, and defense of the state to a private right related to self-defense that is racially coded in American culture.

“Oftentimes, when we talk about self-defense and good guys with guns and citizens, those are all coded as white and often male.”

Sampson blamed the gun industry for marketing firearms by playing on fears that “scary people are not white,” and inducing scared people into thinking they need a firearm for protection.

Regulating the small fraction of gun dealers who sell about 90% of the guns traced to crime in the community will help prevent gun use in crimes across the country.

Attitude toward gun control

A 2022 Asian American Voter Survey, AAPI Data found that 83% of Indian Americans believe the U.S. needs stricter gun laws. But the opinions held by the desi community and the country as a whole do not reflect the laws in the books, especially in many Republican states. 

A new Fox News poll shows that 87% of voters favor background checks for gun purchases. 81% favor making 21 the minimum age to buy a gun. 80% want mental health care checks on all gun buyers. 80% want flags for people who are dangerous to themselves or others, 77% want a 30-day waiting period to buy a gun, and 61% want an assault weapons ban.

The firearms industry, which includes manufacturers, dealers, and distributors, plays a role in facilitating easy access to firearms by preventing regulations and avoiding transparency, accountability, and oversight, said Sampson.

“I’m old enough to have watched this problem unfold over many decades. And after Sandy Hook, I really became very pessimistic that we could achieve change,” said Dr. Woolf.  He feels hopeful that the next generation and increasing attention to gun control might motivate politicians to pass common-sense gun control measures.

“At this singular moment where we’re seeing the chances of our young people reaching adulthood dropping for the first time in half a century at least. One hopes that that particular angle might motivate a common interest on both sides of the aisle to save our children.”

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is the Development Manager at India Currents and Founder/Producer at She brings her passion for community journalism and experience in fundraising, having...