Parsing the Data on “Childhood Gun Violence”

Parsing the Data on “Childhood Gun Violence” June 21, 2017

Pediatrics has just released a study on childhood firearms injuries and deaths, and this CNN article is typical of the news coverage.  Unless you read very carefully, deep into the article, you would get the idea that we are having an epidemic of young children shooting one another.

(How do I feel about the stories like the one that opens the CNN article?  As I’ve said on these pages: If you aren’t committed to keeping your firearms out of the hands of unauthorized users, you shouldn’t own firearms.  Third-graders are not people who should have unfettered access to firearms.  Just no.  No.)

Now all causes of firearm injury and death should be causes for concern.  If the CNN story helps parents become more careful about common-sense safety measures, that’s good.  We need more of that.  Please be particularly careful about preventing drowning, which is the leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4 (390 deaths in 2015) and allowing your children in or near motor vehicles (351 deaths in the 5-9 age range and 412 deaths in the 10-14 age range.)   You can find those figures by going to the CDC’s Leading Cause of Death Reports and requesting the age groups and years of interest.

But if we look at the data from the Pediatrics study being cited by CNN and others, we can see that guns are, though a concern, less deadly than either water or automobiles, for children 12 and under.  Still, we should be careful around all three.

From a public health standpoint, however, two  figures from the Pediatrics study leap out:
-African American boys being murdered (n=389).
-White boys committing suicide (n=404).

Those two categories alone make up 61% of the firearms deaths among minors.

The causes of firearms death matter significantly when considering public policy decisions.  Consider, for example, the 6,787 deaths by motor vehicles among the 15-24 year old age group in 2015 (CDC).  What are the causes?  Texting and driving?  Drinking and driving?  Those are issues we respond to quite differently than, say, vehicular homicide, which is again different from suicide.  Stiff blood alcohol limits and DUI penalties will do virtually nothing to prevent premeditated murder.

The same is true with firearms.  Since we know that the bulk of firearms deaths among minors come from two distinct, identifiable risk groups, it is logical that we should target the bulk of our gun-violence prevention efforts at those two risk groups.  The Pediatrics study is astounding in how clearly it confirms what many have long suspected, that homicide among African American boys and death by suicide among white boys are two leading public health concerns on which we should focus our attention.

File:Women s target shooting - Dene - Great Slave Lake NWT c1940.jpg

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [public domain]

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