The continued false claim that firearms are the leading cause of death for children or teens, now from the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

Jun 26, 2024 | Original Research

On Tuesday, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared: “Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents” and that it is “public health crisis.” This has been a favorite talking point from the Biden White House, for both President Biden and Vice President Harris, continues to be that guns are the leading cause of death of “children.”  Of course, the news media and factcheckers push these claims. The problem is it is false.

For those under 18, vehicle deaths are consistently greater than those from firearms. For those under 20, firearm deaths exceed vehicle deaths for 2020, 2021, and 2022 when you use the CDC firearm homicide data. When you use the FBI murder data, the vehicle deaths exceed the firearm deaths for 2019, 2020, and 2022, and likely 2021, though the FBI data isn’t available for that year. The bottom line is that about 44% of murders for those under 20 occur where the victims are 18 and 19.

about 1/3rd of the firearm deaths for those under 20 involve homicide, where the victims are 18 and 19 years old. About another 20% of involve homicides for 15, 16, and 17-year-olds. These deaths are largely gang-related and even banning guns is unlikely to stop drug gangs from getting a hold of guns to protect their extremely valuable drugs.

Using the CDC firearm homicide data for 2022, about 3% of the deaths for those under 20 involve accidents and 27% suicides.

Suffocation deaths for those under 18 are greater than total firearm deaths using the FBI numbers in both 2019 and 2020 (2,253 and 2,110). Total firearm deaths are greater for those under 20 than from suffocation.

Suicides should also be excluded because the common claim is that if guns are eliminated, people either won’t try to commit suicide or cannot do it successfully. Yet, in places where guns are banned, total suicide rates remain unchanged — people change how they commit suicide. From 2019 to 2022, excluding firearm suicides would reduce numbers from the CDC by 27 to 39 percent. With the FBI murder data, firearm suicides make up 31 to 46 percent of the total. So, for example, in 2020, for those under 20, removing suicides would reduce the number of firearm deaths using the numbers from the CDC from 4,253 to 2,960 and using the FBI murder rate data from 3,405 to 2,112. There are many other very effective ways to commit suicide, such as hanging, walking in front of a train, jumping from a height, using explosives, or cyanide (source here). More on suicides available here.

As to accidental gun deaths involving children, over the ten years from 2011 to 2020, there was an average of 43 deaths per year for children under 10. Over that period for children under 18, it averaged 92 accidental gun deaths a year. For those under 10, earlier research showed about 2/3rds of those accidentally shot to death were shot by adult males, usually in their late 20s who have violent criminal records and are drug addicts or alcoholics. Presumably, since these individuals are illegally owning guns, it is unlikely that even banning guns would have a big impact on the rate of these accidental gun shots.

Summary: 

For those under 18, total vehicle deaths are 14% and 35% greater than firearm deaths from murder, suicides, and accidents in 2020 and 2022. Even when you use homicides instead of murders, which includes justifiable homicides, vehicle deaths are 6% greater in 2021 and there is a less than 0.4% different in 2022.

With the drop in murder/homicide rates in 2022 and 2023, indicates that however firearm deaths and vehicle deaths are measured, vehicle deaths will almost certainly be greater than firearm deaths.

When you look at deaths for those under 20, firearm deaths from murder, suicides, and accidents were less than vehicle deaths in 2019, 2020, and 2022 (the FBI data on murder for those ages wasn’t available yet for 2021). Firearm deaths from homicides, suicides, and accidents exceeded vehicle deaths in 2020, 2021, and 2022, but it was driven by the difference between the CDC measure of homicides and the FBI measure of murder. Even if you use the CDC numbers on homicides, the results are driven by 18- and 19-year-olds likely to be involved in gang violence.

johnrlott

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