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Gun deaths rising at ‘alarming’ rates in U.S. among school-aged children, study finds

More than twice as many American kids were shot dead in 2017 than active duty U.S. military personnel and on-duty police officers combined.

Maddie Gaffrey
Maddie Gaffrey, a 17-year-old junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, holds a picture of her friend Luke Hoyer who was killed in the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
REUTERS/Jillian Kitchener

The number of school-aged children being killed by firearms is increasing “at alarming rates” in the United States, particularly among black children and older teens, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Medicine.

In fact, more than twice as many American kids were shot dead in 2017 than active duty U.S. military personnel and on-duty police officers combined.

These deeply disturbing findings are the latest in a string of recent research results that are exposing the huge human cost that gun violence exacts on America’s children.

A study published last December in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, found that firearm injuries are the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. of young people aged 1 to 19.

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As that study pointed out, almost twice as many American children and teens die each year from gun injuries than from cancer.

The study also noted that America’s young people die from gun violence at a rate that’s 36 times higher than the average rate for their peers living in 12 other high-income countries.

Deadly trends

For the current study, researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt School of Medicine analyzed almost two decades of gun-related death data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.  They were particularly interested in how the data broke down by age and race.

They found that 38,940 American children between the ages of 5 and 18 died from gunshot wounds between 1999 and 2017.

Those deaths included 6,464 children aged 5 to 14  (an average of 340 deaths per year) and 32,478 teens aged 15 to 18 (an average of 2,050 deaths per year).

Most of the deaths (61 percent) were the result of an assault, while about a third (32 percent) were due to a suicide. One in 20 of the children (5 percent) died in a gun-related accident, and the other deaths (2 percent) were categorized as “undetermined.”

Among the 5 to 14 year olds, however, accidental shootings were the cause of 12.8 percent (830) of the deaths.

Boys were at a particularly high risk of dying from a gunshot wound. The vast majority — 86 percent — of all the gun-related deaths in the study were boys.

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Also more vulnerable were black children, who made up 41 percent of the gun-related deaths.

The disparity in gun deaths between black and white children has climbed significantly since 2013, both in the 5 to 14-year-old and 15 to 18-year-old age groups, the study found.

Warnings from history

“It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty, and about 1,000 active duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-aged children were killed by firearms,” the authors of the study write.

Federal laws currently prohibit government funding of studies that could explore how to curb gun-related violence, the researchers point out. That situation raises ethical concerns, they add, because “such laws limit public health officials to passively observe continuing harms to the public they are sworn to protect.”

“The circumstances surrounding these current issues may have some analogies to the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee whereby medical treatment was withheld, in part, because it was legal to do so,” the researchers warn.

In that infamous study, several hundred black participants with syphilis were denied treatment for the disease — without their knowledge.

The researchers say new studies are needed to test various hypotheses about how gun-related deaths can be reduced. They also call for an end to laws and policies limiting such research.

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“Combating the epidemic of mortality due to firearms among United States schoolchildren without address firearms is analogous to combating the epidemic of mortality from lung cancer due to cigarettes without address cigarettes,” they write.

So far this year, gun violence has killed or injured 603 American children and teens.

Tragically, that number is almost certain to increase by the end of today.

FMI: The study should be on the American Journal of Medicine’s website soon.