Mass Shootings Are Fraction of Child Gun Deaths in the U.S.

Hadiya Pendleton was standing with friends in a park on Chicago’s South Side when she was shot and killed by a gunman who ran toward the group and opened fire. The 15-year-old King College Prep student’s death in 2013 may have never made headlines, except for the fact that she had performed as part of a majorette squad at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration just one week earlier.

As the nation mourns the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade in Uvalde, Texas, Hadiya’s parents Cleo and Nathaniel Pendleton are hoping murders like their daughter’s will be part of the larger conversation about the thousands of American children who are killed by guns each year—most of whom never receive public attention.

“When you talk about the impact that gun violence has on families, it’s just a mess,” Cleo Pendleton, who spoke with TIME to commemorate National Gun Violence Awareness Day on Friday, says. “We deal with it and we hear about it so frequently that people have started to become numb to it and normalize it.”

Hadiya Pendleton (15 years old) is depicted in this undated family picture. Pendleton was shot and killed in 2013 in a Chicago park as she talked with friends when a gunman opened fire on the group—a week after she performed in President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Everytown for Gun Safety

Every year, more than 3,500 children and teens—defined as infants through age 19—are shot and killed in the U.S., and another 15,000 are wounded in shootings, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2016 to 2020, which was analyzed by Everytown—a nonprofit group that advocates for tougher gun laws and actions to address gun violence.

Of those deaths, 2,100 are homicides—most of them the result of either domestic violence or the kind of street violence that claimed Hadiya’s life.

An average of 1,200 children per year commit suicide using a gun. Unintentional shootings cause the deaths of 130 more children and teenagers each year. On average, fewer than 35 children and teens are killed as a result of mass shootings a year—even though, for obvious and good reasons, those tragedies often receive lots of attention.

According to experts and advocates such as the Pendletons, in order to save children’s lives, the U.S. must address all types of gun violence.

“In general mass shootings account for less than 1% of all firearms deaths in the United States, that’s for all ages,” Dr. Los Lee, an associate professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School says. “When you look at it for children, it’s also less than 1%. So they account for a very small number.”

Continue reading: What is considered a mass shooting? Why So Much of America’s Gun Violence Gets Overlooked

This problem continues to worsen. The trend in gun violence since the beginning of the pandemic has been upwards. The leading cause of child and teen death was firearms by 2020. The Gun Violence Archive reports that 686 children were killed and 1 700 injured by gun violence since June 1, 2022. This data is collected through a non-profit website called the Gun Violence Archive. (This archive defines children from the ages of infants to 17-years.)

These shootings are most common in inner-city communities of minorities. Black kids are fourteen times more likely to be killed by gun violence than their peers and siblings of color. Gun violence is three times more common in Latino or Hispanic children than it is for white children. It is clear that black children and Hispanic/Latino children are much more vulnerable to gun violence then white children.

In Philadelphia shootings, 14 victims were killed over Memorial Day Weekend. Jamel Parks (9 years old) and Gerald Parks (his father), were among the dead. The victims were near their house, in a vehicle. Two teenagers, one 16-year-old and one 17-year-old were each wounded. Over the weekend in Baltimore, three teenagers were killed and another was injured.

“Inner-city shootings, which are also very tragic to the victims and the families in the community, occur more frequently and people can become desensitized to it,” Lee says. “Because of the kinds of communities that are primarily impacted, the public and policymakers are less invested in thinking about gun violence prevention interventions in those areas.”

Cleo Pendelton believes that there’s a “vicious cycle” of gun violence in the U.S., and because the problem appears so unrelenting, many focus solely on law-enforcement solutions. “We need to try more things outside of just locking kids up. We need to put money towards community resources,” Cleo says. “We need to figure out creative solutions to help reduce the likelihood that this perpetual violence is going to continue.”

Continue reading: We Never Thought This Would Happen Here.’ Uvalde Residents Reckon With Gun Violence in Their Quiet Town

When it comes to protecting children, Nathaniel Pendleton believes it’s important to invest in community-based solutions. “Politicians don’t live in our neighborhoods, they just don’t. They don’t know the experiences that we deal with. How can you make a decision on something when you have no idea about how people in these neighborhoods think?” Nathaniel says.

Cleo Pendleton and Nathaniel Pendleton are the parents of murdered Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton. They attended a press conference in Miami Beach on July 29, 2013.

Angel Valentin—Getty Images

With the summer months coming—which usually portends a seasonal uptick in violence—experts and community leaders hope that gun deaths are viewed as a public health issue and are tackled as such. This means that there must be an integrated approach to solving the problem. This includes policing and legislation, as well as community investment, legislative reform, and local people taking action.

The Pendletons are continuing their activism in their community and beyond with the hopes that people will begin to take this problem seriously—and so other children don’t have to have their lives cut short.

“Let’s stop talking about it. We need to think and do something about it,” Cleo Pendleton says. “Life should be more important than the right to bear arms. Hadiya had the right to live and that right was taken from her.”

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