Firearms became the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in the United States in 2020, according to new research using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new leading cause of death among young people comes after a record 45,222 people died from firearm-related injuries in 2020 in the U.S., according to a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of the deaths were from firearm homicide.
However, researchers from the University of Michigan noted an alarming number of the deaths, 10,186 (22.5%), were of people ages 1-19.
For over 60 years, motor vehicle accidents were the leading cause of deaths of young people, but since 2001, the number of deaths has dramatically decreased. There were about 3,900 deaths in 2020. Meanwhile, firearm-related deaths have been on the rise since 2013; there was a 29.5% increase from 2019 to 2020.
“This tells us that it’s a worsening problem in the U.S., and I mean the most recent data suggests that the trend is actually accelerating,” Jason Goldstick, research associate professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the letter, told USA TODAY.
“If you look at other other countries, it’s not even comparable. The risk of firearm violence in other countries is not even in in the same league as it is in the United States.”
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The main cause of gun-related deaths was interpersonal violence, he said, so the number of gun-related injuries could also be higher.
Goldstick said there are several possible factors as to what may have caused the dramatic increase in young deaths, but noted a 2019 study by UC Davis researchers found there are more handgun injuries after spikes in handgun purchases. A February 2021 study found there was a rise in the purchase of firearms after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Patrick Carter, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan and co-author, said one reason motor vehicle deaths have gone down in recent decades is because of research that documents ways to make highways safer despite a rise of cars on the road.
“Changing behavior, improving the safety of the vehicle, improving the roads and educating our drivers better, that’s all through evidence based driven research,” Carter said. “What we have seen with firearms is that we haven’t been able to, until just recently, been able to apply that same type of evidence based research to the problem of firearms.”
If those methods can be proved to decrease the amount of gun-related violence, Carter said the trend could possibly go down. More education on gun training and finding ways to keep guns away from children and teenagers might help turn the corner, he said.
“That gives me hope that we can apply those types of evidence based findings in the same way we did for vehicles over the past 50 years to the problem of firearm deaths. We can then change and bend the curve on the number of kids who are dying from firearms,” he said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.