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Children's Health

Gun Violence Threatens the Health and Well-Being of America’s Children

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Gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis. Its threat to the physical and mental health of children cannot be overstated.

Arturo Brito

President and CEO, Children’s Health Fund

“Gun violence threatens our most basic human right, the right to life. It must end now.”

Consider these statistics:

  • Gun violence has been the leading cause of death of youth under age 20 in the United States since 2020, surpassing death from car crashes, cancer, and COVID-19.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data reveals that 4,368 U.S. children and adolescents under age 20 died from firearms in 2020, with 64% by homicide and another 30% by suicide (5% of the deaths were unintentional or for an undetermined reason).

The threat to children from guns goes beyond death and serious bodily injuries. Shootings like those last year in Texas and earlier this year in Tennessee also take an immense psychological toll on their victims. For instance, children and adolescents who survive gun violence are at increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, frequent and intense nightmares, and intrusive thoughts and memories.

Indirect effects

But gun violence also affects children indirectly. For example, children who live in communities that have been affected by gun violence but who are not victims themselves may perceive the world as an inherently unsafe place and become hypervigilant, anxious, depressed, and hopeless, leading them to feel they are destined to die from gun violence as well.

study published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed that children who live within four to five blocks of a shooting make increased visits to the emergency department for mental health issues compared to children who live further away. Even children whose communities have not been impacted directly by gun violence may experience increased levels of fear and anxiety due to the wide-ranging practice of active-shooter drills in schools and frequent media exposure to active-shooter events.

An Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of social media posts revealed a 42% increase in anxiety and stress, and a 39% increase in depression amongst those in the school community following active shooter drills.

Additionally, research suggests that repeated exposure to news coverage of community violence, including gun violence, can result in poor mental health outcomes in the short-term through acute stress and fear, and in the development of posttraumatic stress responses over time. 

Gun violence in communities of color

While people of all backgrounds can be victims of gun violence, guns disproportionately affect people of color. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), Black youth had the highest gun death rate in 2021 (12.9 per 100,000) followed by American Indian and Alaska Native youth (4.4 per 100,000). Additionally, Black youth accounted for 46% of youth firearm deaths, yet accounted for only 14% of the total U.S. population.

A 2019 Everytown Research & Policy report additionally found that Hispanic children are three times as likely as non-Hispanic white children to die from gun violence. Furthermore, while gun-related deaths increased during the pandemic, and rates of firearm deaths among children of color increased dramatically according to KFF.

For Black children, firearm deaths increased from 6.7 per 100,000 in 2019 to 9.5 per 100,000 in 2020. American Indian and Alaskan Native youth saw firearm deaths increase from 3.7 in 2019 to 6.1 in 2020, per capita. For white youth, firearms deaths rose from 1.8 to 2.2.

These racial and ethnic inequities are exacerbated by the fact that the youth who are most affected by gun violence are also those who historically face systemic barriers to healthcare and who are most likely to have no health insurance.

Gun violence threatens our most basic human right, the right to life. It must end now.

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