HOMICIDE now the leading cause of death in children amid firearm epidemic

Homicides of children soared during the first year of the pandemic, becoming the leading cause of death among under-18s.

The US is an outlier among other developed nations in that firearms are a major driving factor in the murder rate, which has steadily increased by an average of more than four percent since 2013.

Homicides saw a particularly ‘precipitous’ rise from 2019 to 2020 — spiking from around 1,600 to more than 2,050, a rise of 28 percent. That was fueled by a sharp jump in firearm-related homicides in minors – which rose by nearly 50 percent between 2019 and 2020.

The steepest increases were among black children, and almost half were among children living in southern states. The latest study comes days after the anniversary of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. 

Homicides increased overall, but particularly in boys while homicides in girls trended down

Authors of the study from the federal government and Georgia State University wrote: ‘Study findings highlight child homicide as a public health concern, warranting immediate attention… The recent increase might be partly driven by the general trend in firearm-related homicides.’

The other top causes of death among minors are auto accidents and suicide. In fact, until 2020, auto accidents were the leading cause of premature death in children.

That was the year that firearms became the leading cause of death among children. 

The researchers used National Violent Death Reporting System data to describe the circumstances of the violent deaths. They published their findings in JAMA Pediatrics.

The homicide rate among Black boys aged 16 to 17 years is nearly 74 per 100,000 children, which is 18 times greater than white children and almost five times greater than Hispanic boys of the same age.

The study said: ‘Racial residential segregation disproportionately exposes children of color to concentrated poverty, segregated and underfunded educational systems, environmental hazards, lack of safe play spaces, and limited opportunity, all conditions that might increase risk of experiencing violence.’

Homicides also disproportionately affected older children, with over half occurring in 11 to 17-year olds.

Meanwhile, homicides among infants and children under five were most commonly perpetrated by a parent or mother’s male companion, resulting from abuse or neglect, with home being the most common place young children were killed.

Children ages six to 11 were most commonly killed with a firearm. Homicide rates were also higher among boys than girls. 

Homicide rates among girls and infants aged one to five, as well as among white children, Asian or Pacific Islander children and children in the Northeast have fallen.

Deaths among infants and young children were most often linked to abuse. Most deaths among six to 10-year olds were caused by firearms most often carried out by caregivers.

Deaths among infants and young children were most often linked to abuse. Most deaths among six to 10-year olds were caused by firearms most often carried out by caregivers.

The majority of the homicides were among black children while nearly half were among children in the southern US. Those kids also accounted for the most gun shot hospitalizations.

The majority of the homicides were among black children while nearly half were among children in the southern US. Those kids also accounted for the most gun shot hospitalizations.

‘Although these losses and their consequences are fundamentally preventable, they are becoming more common, not less, despite numerous advances in other aspects of child safety. Indeed, firearm injury has surpassed motor vehicle crash to become the leading cause of death among children,’ the authors wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The authors of the report noted an uptick in violent crime involving guns during the Covid-19 pandemic as an indirect effect of widespread social isolation that exacerbated racial and economic divides.

2020 was the first year that gun violence overtook vehicle crashes as a leading killer – both due to a surge in firearm deaths and a rapid fall in vehicle-related deaths over the past two decades.

A separate study out this week, also published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that the number of children going to hospitals with gunshot injuries jumped 52 per cent between April 2020 and December 2021 compared with that rate during April 2018 to December 2019.

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