On average, 19 children between the ages of 1 and 17 are injured or killed by firearms every day in the United States, making the US the leader among high-income nations in the rate of childhood gunshot wounds (including accidents and suicide). After a significant decline in these numbers between 2006 and 2013, statistics from the National Vital Statistics System and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System show a significant increase over the past two years. Six percent of childhood gunshot fatalities were accidental, 38% were suicides, 53% were homicides, and the remaining 3% were from legal intervention or “undetermined reasons”. These numbers correlate with the continued upswing in gun ownership in the United States.
The majority of US citizens continue to deny the amplitude and severity of gunshot violence in general and childhood gunshot wounds and death in particular, and that it is a distinctly American issue. The US has the highest rate of firearm injury and death among all developed countries and, in fact, the highest overall rate of homicide in general.
The third leading cause of death for children in this age range, many instances of fatal gunshot wounds are misclassified as homicides, creating suspicion that the numbers are decidedly higher, with the National Violent Death Reporting System claiming that the rate of childhood injury from gun violence is 80% higher than indicated by the reports.
Suicide by gunshot is currently at its highest rate since the inception of the tracking system. Because suicide in children and adolescents is an impulsive reaction to a short-term crisis, the wide availability of firearms, particularly in the home, is a crucial factor in the decision by a child to take his or her own life. The rate of successful suicide attempts by other means is substantially lower than those by gunshot (most fail); an attempt with a firearm deprives emergency room practitioners of the ability to revive or otherwise save the child.
A survey of more than 5,000 fifth graders and their parents or guardians in 2004-2006 found that less than 6% of gun-owning families stored their firearms securely (unloaded, locked, with trigger locks, and with ammunition locked up separately), with black families more likely than white to practice these safety measures. This is in direct conflict with assertions by gun lobbyists and the NRA that legal gun ownership has not contributed to the current rise in childhood gun violence, either accidental or deliberate.
Experts in the field state unequivocally that the answer to this is prevention, which comes in large part from education. Providing safe, nurturing environments in which children can thrive, along with funding for education regarding gun violence among American youth and how to prevent it, are key factors in lowering the staggering number of children killed by firearms every day.