More than 300 young people — including small children — have died from gunshots in Minnesota since the year 2000.
Add the adults killed by gunfire, and the numbers reveal a bloody routine: On average, one Minnesotan dies every day by firearms while another suffers injuries.
Even in relatively peaceful Minnesota, more than 3,600 people died from gun-related homicides, suicides and accidents between 2000 and 2010, according to estimates by the Minnesota Department of Health. Firearms are the state’s second leading cause of traumatic brain injury deaths, officials said in a comprehensive health report.
Because the deaths of the Minnesota teens and children primarily came one by one rather than in connection with a mass shooting, their individual tragedies did not stir the same level of widespread shock, anger and sorrow that followed the slaughter of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Even so, these Minnesota kids – who died in small-town schools, inner city bedrooms and many places in between – are mourned by families, classmates and neighbors.
Their memories stand as a backdrop for debates taking shape in the Minnesota Legislature as lawmakers in this state and across the nation consider whether more gun control is needed – and, if so, what form it should take.
The suicide factor
One reason the numbers may surprise many Minnesotans is that most of the deaths were not covered by news media or otherwise publicly reported because they were suicides. Indeed, suicides outnumbered all other causes of gun-related deaths. Between 2000 and 2010, guns were used to commit an average 256 suicides each year in Minnesota compared with 70 homicides per year.
Nationwide, guns are the fifth most common means of suicide for children between 10 and 14 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number that climbed to fourth nationwide for those between 15 and 24 years old. In Minnesota, 24 children aged between 10 and 14 claimed their own lives with a gun over 11 years. Among those between 15 and 19, that number jumped to 178 deaths.
Many lives lost to suicide likely would have been saved if people had gotten rid of their firearms, kept them locked away or stored them outside the home, said David Hemenway, director of Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center.
“Studies show that most attempters act on impulse, in moments of panic or despair,” Hemenway said in connection with the online release of a nationwide study entitled “Guns and Suicide: A Fatal Link.”
“Once the acute feelings ease, 90 percent do not go on to die by suicide,” he said.
The 2007 Harvard study is part of a large body of research showing that suicide is more prevalent in areas where guns are readily and plentifully available. (For more discussion of this research, see Susan Perry’s MinnPost report on the health risk of keeping a gun in your home.)
The correlation between suicide and the availability of guns has been shown to be strong, but inexact. The outcomes also depend on a myriad of other factors, including poverty. Further, many who die at their own hands choose other means. Death by hanging, for example, is all too common among suicidal teens.
Murder and accident
Beyond suicide, guns were used to murder 772 Minnesotans during the 11 years covered in the Health Department’s report. Accidental shooting deaths totaled 51, about 4.6 a year.
In roughly half of unintentional shootings, someone other than the victim pulled the trigger, according to a July 2010, 16-state study by the Harvard School of Public Health. In virtually every case, the shooter and the victim knew one another, and nearly half were related. These fatal accidents mostly happened among those who were hunting or playing with firearms, said a report released last year by the CDC. Typically, the shooter believed the weapon wasn’t loaded or simply pulled the trigger accidentally.
In the 300 deaths of Minnesota children and teens, the ages ranged between less than a year to 19 years old. Nearly 40 were between 10 and 14 years olds, while most others were older teenagers.
The statistics show that more than 120 teenagers between 15 and 19 were murdered with guns over the 11 years. About 20 of the victims were aged between a year and 14 years old.
Those statistics do not include the young Minnesota lives lost in 2012, including:
- Nizzel George, 5, shot on June 26 while sleeping on a couch in his grandmother’s home in North Minneapolis.
- Neegnco Xiong, 2, shot on Dec. 5twith a loaded handgun he and his 4-year-old brother found in a bedroom of their south Minneapolis home.
- Nicholas Brady, 17, and his cousin, Haile Kifer, 18, shot repeatedly on Thanksgiving Day, allegedly while breaking into a home near Little Falls.
Still, Minnesota is nowhere near leading the nation in gun violence. The state ranked 31st in an FBI tally of the sheer numbers of firearm-related murders during 2011. Among 70 homicides in Minnesota that year, handguns were the most common weapon, used 36 times. By contrast, knives were used in only 12 of the murders.
Meanwhile, both sides of the gun control debate in Minnesota are gearing up for action in this year’s legislative session.
On the national level, the White House is weighing gun control measures in response to the Connecticut massacre and public outcry. Vice President Joe Biden is leading a task force to propose new federal gun laws, which could include stronger mental health checks for gun purchases and national firearms databases. Details are slated for release next week.