Guns overtake cars as the leading cause of death for young Americans


For decades, the biggest threat to kids growing up came from the cars they happily jump into every day on a trip to school, the store, or soccer practice.


Now, it’s shooting.

As the state mourns the victims of the Ovaldi, Texas, school shooting, it has also reached a grim milestone: Guns now kill more children and teens in the United States than car crashes do.

The trend has been increasing in recent years as car deaths have decreased with improved safety measures, while gun violence among young people has taken an increasing toll. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2020, the latest available year, firearms have overtaken cars as the leading killer of those ages 1 to 19.

“It was clear to me that it was only a matter of time,” said Dr. Louis Lee, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School, who has been studying the trend. . “I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”

What triggered the violence? Experts point to many reasons — frustrations with entrenched poverty and discrimination, the glorification of gun violence in popular culture and entertainment, and the ease with which young people have access to guns in many states like Texas — all of which have led to COVID-19 stress. pandemic.

“We live in a society today where gun violence is increasingly tolerated,” said Rutgers University psychology professor Paul Boxer. “What I’ve seen locally and personally is a lot of anxiety and depression.”

But Boxer cautioned that the factors behind the increased gun violence among young people are as diverse as the patchwork of gun laws and socioeconomic conditions across a politically divided country.

In the New England Journal of Medicine published last month, Lee noted that firearms overtook cars as the leading killer among those aged 1-24 in 2017, as gun violence became more deadly among older teens and young adults.

For children and teens ages 1 to 17, cars remain the number one killer, CDC figures show, even though the guns are close.

The number of motor vehicle deaths among young adults ages 1 to 19 decreased from 7,885 in 2002 to 3,512 in 2019 before reaching 3,913 in 2020. The number of US firearm deaths among children and teens has been around 3,000 annually since 2000 , and reached as low as 2450 in 2013. But it has since risen, rising to 4,357 in 2020.

Lee, who pointed out in an article on May 26 in Child and Adolescent Health The Lancet That while deaths in young adults under the age of 20 have fallen by 51% since 2000, gun deaths have increased by 83% since 2013.

Among those aged 15 to 24, “the annual relative increase in homicides from 2019 to 2020 was the largest to date we’ve seen in 100 years,” said Dr. Garen Winmotte, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. of record keeping. The reason for this, he said, was “what happened to the entire population”.

“What else happened in 2020? The Covid pandemic, with all the upheaval it has caused, and the beginning of an unprecedented surge in firearms purchases that continues to the present,” said Wintmutt.

newly CDC . Report It observed a 35% increase in firearm homicides overall in all age groups from 2019 to 2020.

But the national trend is uneven across states. California — known for its car culture and the nation’s broadest gun laws — is among the 21 states where the death rate for children and teens is higher from cars than from guns. So are Florida, which was the scene of one of the deadliest Parkland school shootings of 2018, and Connecticut, where the deadliest mass shooting occurred at an elementary school in Newtown in 2012.

All three states have stricter gun laws than Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school students and teachers on Tuesday. The Lone Star State is among those states where guns top cars as the leading killer of children and teens. Other states include Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois.

Lee said the increase in gun deaths is largely due to a rise in homicides, which account for nearly 60% of gun deaths among young adults since 2010.

Wintmut noted a “gradual increase” in youth suicides that also jumped in 2020, though not as much as homicides.

Both guns and cars were more deadly in 2020 for boys than girls, who were killed more than twice as often by cars than by guns.

The figures also showed that fatalities from firearms were higher than those from cars in 2020 for young blacks and Asian and Pacific Islanders. Young whites had more gun deaths, but motor vehicle deaths were higher.

Reversing the trend in firearm deaths is more complex than it is in automobiles—most automobile deaths are accidents, most fatalities are intentional, and there is no constitutional right to own a vehicle. But Lee said an approach similar to that taken with cars would still yield results.

For cars, the government created a federal agency, the National Highway Safety Administration, that focused solely on reducing car deaths. The government has funded research to find ways to make roads safer, from seat belts and airbags to speed limits, driver’s licenses, and stricter drunk driving laws.

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