Posted on December 20, 2022

Childhood’s Greatest Danger: The Data on Kids and Gun Violence

Robert Gebeloff et al., New York Times, December 14, 2022

For much of the nation’s history, disease was the No. 1 killer of children. Then America became the land of the automobile, and by the 1960s, motor-vehicle crashes were the most common way for children to die. Twenty years ago, well after the advent of the seatbelt, an American child was still three times as likely to die in a car accident as to be killed by a firearm. We’re now living in the era of the gun.

The gun-death rate for children is nearly five in every 100,000. It was flat for more than a decade starting in 2000, and most years fewer than three in every 100,000 children were killed by guns. In 2014, the rate began to creep up, and by 2020 guns became the leading killer.

Last year was a particularly violent one: 3,597 children died by gunfire, according to provisional statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate from guns was the highest it has been in more than 20 years. While the statistics for this year are incomplete, it is clear that the carnage has not receded.


No group of American children has been spared, but some have fared far worse. Last year, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths involving children — 2,279 — were homicides. Since 2018, they have increased by more than 73 percent. Most homicides involved Black children, who make up a small share of all children but shoulder the burden of gun violence more than any others, a disparity that is growing sharply.

The number of children who die by suicide with a gun has also risen to a historical high over the last decade. Last year, suicides made up nearly 30 percent of child gun deaths — 1,078. Unlike homicides, suicides disproportionately involve white children, mostly teenage boys. A decade ago, the number of white children who killed themselves with a gun totaled around 500 annually; in three of the last five years, that figure has surpassed 700.

The share of gun suicides for Black and Hispanic children has been growing, too. Still, in America, among children who die by gunfire, Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be killed by others, and white children are more likely to kill themselves.

Gun accidents that kill children have also ticked up in the last decade, though they are relatively uncommon, totaling fewer than 150 in most years.


Black children represented almost half of all gun deaths and two-thirds of gun homicides involving youths last year, despite making up about only 15 percent of children in America. This disparity of death has grown significantly worse in recent years. Black children are now nearly six times as likely as white children to be killed with a gun.

The recent spike in gun deaths for Black children builds on a continuing phenomenon in which some children are exposed to much more violence than others. While guns became the leading cause of death for American children only recently, they have been the leading cause of death among Black children for at least two decades.

About a decade ago, Black boys were killed with guns at a rate of about 12 out of every 100,000. Five years ago, it was 15 out of every 100,000. By last year, nearly 26 out of every 100,000 Black boys in the United States were killed. Comparatively, the gun-death rate for white boys last year was less than five out of every 100,000.

Gun-death rates have risen most drastically for Black boys, but the rate has also risen in recent years for white and Hispanic boys, and for Black girls. Although girls make up a small portion of total gun deaths, the imbalance between Black girls and all other girls is vast and quickly widening.


The geography of gun violence is complex. It is growing fastest in urban areas but is also growing in suburban neighborhoods and in rural America. Most of the states with the highest rates of child gun deaths are in the South, but nowhere is immune.

One pattern is consistent: Poor neighborhoods and those with a high population of Black residents, whether in cities or suburbs, are more likely to suffer from gun violence than others. Children growing up in poor neighborhoods in the Houston metro area are twice as likely to be shot and killed as other children there. In the Chicago area, the child gun-death rate in poor neighborhoods is 7.5 times as high as in others. In the St. Louis area, it’s 10 times as high.


Older children die from gun violence at a much higher rate than younger ones. But another disturbing part of the current crisis is the rapid rise in deaths of younger children, who account for a growing share of the toll. Precise reasons for the spike in gun deaths among the youngest children are not known, but the increase coincides with an unprecedented rise in gun sales since 2019.

Overall, gun deaths among children jumped sharply in 2020 and again in 2021. A 31 percent increase for children 17 and 18 since 2019 is troubling enough, but the increase was 74 percent for children 9 and younger.


About 45 percent of gun homicides of children and more than half of suicides last year were among children under 17. Once again, racial disparity is present at all ages. Black children are now far more likely to be shot and killed than white children at every age — from the moment they can walk until they are old enough to vote.