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  • For the first time, guns have overtaken motor vehicles as the top cause of death for children and adolescents.
  • Deaths attributed to guns now account for nearly 30 percent of deaths among children and adolescents in the U.S.
  • Gun violence has increased rapidly during the pandemic in the U.S.

Guns are now the leading cause of death in children and teenagers in the United States.

Between 2019 and 2020, gun deaths in kids and adolescents increased by 29.5 percent, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week.

The increase is twice as high as the increase recorded in the general population.

The report also found that drug overdoses and poisoning in children and adolescents increased by 83.6 percent, making it the third leading cause of death in young people after car crashes.

Mental health issues in young people worldwide have been increasing in recent years, and public health experts say the pandemic has intensified the isolation, loneliness, and stress that young people were already feeling.

Easy access to firearms has made gun violence a uniquely American problem.

“Adolescents are a reflection of what has taken place in the overall population. Gun violence has increased at an alarming rate in the United States. That rate is exponential when it comes to children,” Dr. Howard Pratt, a psychiatrist and Behavioral Health Medical Director at Community Health of South Florida, Inc., told Healthline.

New evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 45,222 firearm-related deaths were reported in 2020.

Gun-related deaths in children and adolescents saw a 29.5 percent increase. Of those deaths, gun-related homicides increased by 33.4 percent, and gun-related suicides increased by 1.1 percent.

Drug overdoses and poisoning increased by 83.6 percent and became the third leading cause of death among children and adolescents.

Prior research has found that young people, particularly those who are Black and Latinx, are disproportionally impacted by firearm homicides.

Gun homicide rates among young people vary from state to state — Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, and Illinois typically see the highest rates. Gun-related suicides are more common among white and Native American children.

The researchers say the findings highlight the need to invest in the prevention of firearm violence.

“I echo what the authors stated – gun violence is preventable, and we have an increasing understanding of how to prevent this crisis,” Jeff Temple, PhD, a licensed psychologist, and director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

“In addition to common-sense gun control such as safe storage and enforcement of red flag laws, we need universally administered community- and school-based programs that effectively prevent violence,” Temple added.

Gun-related deaths had been relatively stable from 1999 to 2014 but gradually increased between 2015 and 2017 before spiking in 2020.

Research from the gun safety organization Everytown found that there was a 64 percent increase in gun purchases from 2019 to 2020.

From March to December 2020, the U.S. saw a 30 percent increase in unintentional fatal shootings by children compared to 2019.

“More young people are carrying guns, guns are more easily accessible to young people, and they are using them more frequently to settle disputes,” says Daniel Flannery, PhD, the director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention and Research at Case Western Reserve University.

Public health experts believe the pandemic’s many stressors — including months of social isolation, record-high unemployment levels, and school and office closures — have contributed to the surge in gun violence.

Pratt says children typically rely on the social support they get through school.

“Kids have spent more time out of school, isolated from support systems, not interacting with others, so they lack important connections to adults, mentors, and peers,” Flannery said.


Young people have also spent more time on social media, which studies have linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide ideation.

“There is a global mental health crisis among our youth that started before the pandemic. The isolation, loneliness, loss, stress, and economic hardships related to the pandemic only worsened this problem,” says Temple.

Guns are now the leading cause of death in children and teenagers in the United States. Gun-related deaths among children and adolescents increased by 29.5 percent from 2019 to 2020 — which is twice as high as the increase recorded in the general population.