Firearm Violence Affecting Children
Though the vigor behind the March for Our Lives has seemingly disappeared from news headlines in the past week, the reality of firearm violence against children has not changed. As stated in my previous article on gun violence in America, the process of figuring out how to solve gun violence requires that we identify what the problems are, figure out which are the highest priority, and then go about researching why these specific types of gun violence are occurring.
We can all agree that firearm violence against children is arguably the most heinous classification of such violence, and should be a top priority on the list of issues we aim to fix. This article will look into some of the available data on firearm violence against children, and seek to get our mental gears turning on how we can combat such violence.
The following statistics come from Childhood Firearm Injuries in the United States, where gun violence against children was studied from 2002-2012. Information was sourced from the National Vital Statistics System, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and the National Violent Death Reporting System.
Note: At the time of this study, only 17 states were participating in the NVDRS program, and as such the circumstantial data surrounding childhood firearm violence is limited. As of the time of this writing, 40 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico all participate in NVDRS reporting – a major improvement!
Approximately 19 kids (aged 1 to 17) are hospitalized or killed each day in the US by the discharge of a firearm. 53% are homicides, 38% are suicides, 6% are unintentional, and the remaining 3% are undetermined.
Boys are the most common victims.
Boys (and men, for that matter) are disproportionately affected by all types of gun violence. 82.4% of all gun violence victims are boys. Boys account for 79.4% of child homicides, 85.4% of child suicides, and 84.1% of unintentional firearm deaths among children. Suffice to say, most data set classifications of firearm violence against children will show 8 out of 10 victims being boys.
Older boys are the most common victims of homicide and suicide.
Older children (13 to 17 years old) are more commonly victims of homicides (78.3%), suicides (95.1%), but less commonly victims of unintentional firearm deaths (39.4%).
Annual rates of firearm death amongst boys (2.8 per 100,000) are 4.5x higher than girls (.6 per 100,000).
This disproportionality is even more pronounced among older boys, with 13-17 year old boys dying by firearm discharge at a rate 6x higher than 13-17 year old girls (8.6 per 100,000 vs 1.4 per 100,000)
General Violence, Homicides, & Suicides Show Racial/Ethnic Trends
African American youth are the most common victims of homicides among children (56.1%), followed by hispanics and whites (21.4% & 20.3%). Native Americans and Asian Americans are least affected, composing 1%.
Racial/Ethnic Trends of General Firearm Violence
Regarding rates of overall firearm violence, African American kids are disproportionately affected (4.1 per 100,000) in large part due to their disproportionately high rates of being homicide victims. Following African Americans are Native American kids (2.15 per 100,000), which is nearly completely due to suicide. Whites are affected by general firearm violence at the third highest rate (1.5 per 100,000), followed by Hispanics (1.15 per 100,000) and Asian Americans (0.39 per 100,000).
Racial/Ethnic Trends of Firearm Homicide
African American youth are murdered at the highest rate (3.5 per 100,000), followed by Hispanics (0.83 per 100,000), Whites (.35 per 100,000), and Asian Americans (0.18 per 100,000). Native American children were not victims of firearm homicide in this study, but as previously stated this data set did not include every state in the U.S.
Racial/Ethnic Suicide Trends
Whites comprise a great percentage of youth suicide than any other groups, committing 81.9% of all child suicides each year. Hispanics compose 8.3%, African Americans 6.3%, Asian Americans 1.6%, and Native Americans 1.4%.
When looking at suicide rates per 100,000, Native American and White kids commit suicide at nearly identical rates (2.19 and 2.18 per 100,000 respectively).
Violence Against Children Shows Regional Trends
The South & the Midwest show the highest rates of child homicide in the country, while suicide peaked in western states but showed less consistent and more widespread overall pattern.
Between 2010 and 2014, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont had less than 20 firearm related child fatalities combined.
Washington D.C. and Louisiana had the highest overall rates of childhood mortality related to firearms, coming in at 4.5 and 4.2 deaths per 100,000 respectively.
Childhood homicide was most prevalent in 16 states:
- South: AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, and TN
- Midwest: IL, MO, MI, and OH
- West: CA, NV
- Northeast: CT, MD, PA
Amongst young (0-12 year old) victims of firearm homicide, 85% were killed in a house or apartment. 4% of young victims were killed on public passageways (street, road, sidewalk, or alley), 3% in a motor vehicle, 6% at another public locations, and 0 in a school (as stated previously, this data is limited and does not include Sandy Hook, in which 20 young children were killed at a school).
In older (13-17 year old) victims of firearm homicide, 39% were killed in a house or apartment, 38% were killed on a public passageway (street, road, sidewalk, or alley), 4% in a motor vehicle, 15% at another public location, and 1% in a school.
Type of Weapon Used
75%-85% Are Murdered With Handguns
As is the case for the general population, handguns kill more kids than any other firearm. Among homicide in young children (0-12 year olds), 75% were killed by handguns and 25% were murdered by shotguns or rifles. In older children (13-17 year olds), 85% are killed by handguns and 15% were killed by shotguns or rifles.
Suicide & Unintentional Death Hovers Around a 60/40 Split
Regarding suicide amongst 10-17 year olds (nearly no suicides occur prior to the age of ten), 60% were committed with handguns while 40% were committed with rifles or shotguns.
In unintentional firearm deaths amongst 0-12 year olds, 59% were by handguns and 41% were by shotguns or rifles. In 13-17 year olds, 57% were killed by handguns and 43% were killed by rifles or shotguns.
Circumstances Surrounding Youth Firearm Deaths
While we often wonder why anyone chooses to end their own life, there are a number of factors that tend to play a role in suicide amongst children. Data gathered for youth suicide is focused on 10-17 year olds, as there is approximately only one suicide every three years in people younger than 10 years old.
Suicides among 10-17 year olds are generally precipitated by some kind of crisis within a close relationship, whether that be with a family member, intimate partner, friend, or otherwise. 41% had a crisis situation within 2 weeks, and 71% involved a relationship issue of some sort (family, friend, intimate partner).
Mental illness plays a role: 36% were known to be depressed at the time, 26% had a clinically diagnosed mental health issue, and 18% were receiving medical care at the time of the suicide.
26% had mentioned suicidal intent or ideation prior to committing suicide.
Suicide rates had previously declined, but between 2007-20014 child suicide by firearm has seen a 60% spike.
Circumstances of Homicide
In young children, homicides are predominantly caused family & intimate partner violence (in-home domestic violence), being a bystander in a crime that is being committed (stray bullets), or in relation to some family related crisis.
Homicides of older children are often precipitated the committal of another crime, gang involvement, to have drug involvement, or to be a situation in which the victim was in possession or actively using a firearm at the time of their homicide (such as in a robbery, gang shoot-out, etc.).
Circumstances of Unintentional Death
6% of child deaths by firearm are unintentional, but fortunately the prevalence of unintentional firearm death has declined since 2002. Most commonly, unintentional firearm death is the result of playing with a loaded gun.
Most fatalities occurred when someone else accidentally discharged a firearm and someone else was shot. Older children were more likely to be unintentionally shot by someone else versus younger children, though both populations are affected by unintentional firearm deaths as a whole.
Circumstances Surrounding Other Firearm Deaths in Children
The remaining 3% of deaths were due to legal intervention (9 cases) or undetermined intent (19 cases).
Who Is Most At Risk Of Youth Firearm Death?
Everybody is at risk of some form of firearm violence, but the specific categories of firearm violence do show trends that related to gender, age, and race or ethnicity.
While all populations are affected by firearm violence among children, boys and African Americans are by far the most victimized groups by both absolute numbers and population relative rates of occurrence.
Boys constitute 82% of all child deaths, and compared to girls they are murdered at a rate of 4 to 1, kill themselves at a rate of 6 to 1, and are unintentionally killed at a rate of 4.5 to 1.
Older children are at a greater risk than younger children of all types of firearm violence. Older children are 12 times as likely to be killed by a firearm than young children (5.1 vs 0.4 per 100,000), and this magnitude of difference is exacerbated by intent. Homicide is nearly 9x as prevalent in older children (2.6 vs .3 per 100,000), suicide is 11 times as prevalent among older children (2.3 vs 0.2 per 100,000), and unintentional death is twice as likely in older children (.2 vs .1 per 100,000).
Black children are murdered at much higher rates than other children, with a homicide rate of 3.5 per 100,000. This is 8.75 times higher than Whites and Asians, and 4 times higher than Hispanics.
White & Native American children kill themselves at much higher rates than other children, doing so at a rate of approximately 2.2 per 100,000. This rate is nearly 4 times that of Black children (.6 per 100,000), four times that of Hispanic children (.5 per 100,000), and over five times that of Asian American children (.4 per 100,000)
Accidental & unintentional firearm death was twice as likely to occur among Black children (0.2 per 100,000) than White children (0.1 per 100,000), and four times as likely compared to Hispanic children (0.05 per 100,000).