In 2020, Guns Became the Leading Cause of Death for US Kids

FAccording to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, irearms was the number one cause of death for American teenagers and children in 2020.

This tragic fact is indicative of a shift in dangers for youth in America. Car accidents have been the most common cause for death in children and teenagers for over 60 years. Now, drug overdoses rank third and car accidents second.

A research paper published in The reveals that the majority of respondents are women. New England Journal of MedicineBetween 2019 and 2020, the number of firearm-related fatalities increased by 13%. But, the number of gun-related deaths in people aged between 1 and 18 increased by an incredible 30%. The research letter states that gun violence was responsible for 45,222 total deaths between 2000 and 2020. Children and teenagers accounted for around 10% of these deaths. For adults, 35% of gun deaths resulted from suicide and 30% came from homicides. These percentages for teens and children are approximately reversed.

“This [increase] is probably linked in part to significant increases in firearm purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic but we don’t have the data systems to truly link those things,” Dr. Lois Lee, a Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who co-wrote a separate article on a related topic in the New England Journal of Medicine TIME.

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Although this report did not include any data on racial characteristics, studies that have been done show that black and brown children are often more vulnerable to gun violence then white kids.

“Although the new data are consistent with other evidence that firearm violence has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reasons for the increase are unclear, and it cannot be assumed that firearm-related mortality will later revert to prepandemic levels,” the research letter says. “Regardless, the increasing firearm-related mortality reflects a longer-term trend and shows that we continue to fail to protect our youth from a preventable cause of death.”

The question of how to address that failure, of course, is something experts, community leaders and activists have long grappled with—even more so since the surge in gun violence that began at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Motor vehicles are becoming safer over the years. Lee’s article states that the death toll from automobile accidents among young Americans has decreased since a concerted effort was made to increase safety.

“The decrease in motor-vehicle-crash deaths in children and young adults is not unintentional. We have excellent data systems for motor vehicle injuries and deaths that we just don’t have for firearm deaths,” Lee says.

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This fact is of double importance to researchers. This isn’t just evidence that safety measures can make a difference, but it could also be a clue to ways in which to decrease firearms-related deaths.

Lee and others believe that improving gun-related data collection would make a difference. They could follow the example of traffic accident data collection. Federal oversight could be increased in the tracking of firearm deaths and injuries and could also address issues regarding how FBI gathers crime statistics. Researchers will have a better understanding of the problem to determine what is effective in preventing such deaths.

“Because we have excellent data systems for motor vehicle, and traffic injuries and deaths, we’ve seen improvements in those areas,” Lee says. “If we can clearly apply the same successful strategies to firearms then that may be a path forward to try and reverse this trend.”

Here are more must-read stories from TIME

To Josiah Bates at


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