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Unsafe Access to Guns a Leading Cause of Death Among Children and Teens

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says that every day, 48 children are wounded or killed by gunfire across the US.
Photo by Elaine Thompson/AP

Across the US, children are being shot to death — in their homes, in their cribs, in playgrounds, and in supermarkets — essentially anywhere they have unsafe access to guns. And 48 children are now being wounded or killed in the US per day, a gun control group has said.

Recently released Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data indicates that child deaths in preventable gun accidents are on the increase, and that gun-related deaths are now the second most common cause of child and teen deaths, with only cars killing more kids than guns in 2013. Typically, the guns involved in these incidents belong to a relative or parent, according to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which campaigns to prevent gun violence, and released an analysis of the CDC statistics this week.


"Millions of Americans have a gun in their homes thinking that it makes their family safer, but every day in our nation, dozens of these families learn just how dangerous and tragic that miscalculation can be," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center, said in a statement. "The bottom line is, having a gun in the home dramatically increases the danger that a child will be shot and killed."

Rebecca Adeskavitz, a researcher at the Brady Center who conducted the analysis, told VICE News that despite a lag in the data, the numbers are grim.

"One of the other things that people have been focusing on this year is that 2015 is that firearm fatalities are predicted to surpass motor vehicle deaths," she said. "Because of the data is about two years behind, we won't know that for a while, but even from the 2013 data, and currently in some states there are already more gun deaths than motor vehicle deaths."

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The Brady Center compiled CDC fatal injury statistics from 2013 into a report released this week that showed some 2,465 people aged between 0 and 19 died by gunfire that year. More than a third of deaths were suicides, while 57 percent were attributed to homicide, and 5 percent were shot unintentionally.

While overall child fatality rates had dropped by 7.5 percent since 2012, researchers recorded the highest rate of suicide by firearm among adolescents aged between 10 and 19 for more than a decade, which was the cause of the loss of some 876 teenage lives in 2013.


These numbers constitutes a 3 percent increase in firearm suicide from the previous year, and a 22 percent jump from 2010.

Teen suicides in general have also risen across the board to become the second leading cause of death among adolescents, the Brady Center said, adding that unsafe access to guns allowed 41 percent of these youths to shoot themselves. The data also notes an overwhelming number — 88 percent — of firearm suicides were perpetrated by white children or teens.

Unintentional shooting deaths in 2013 also rose 15 percent from the previous year, following a slight dip, the group found. These types of deaths are all too common wherever guns are left lying around, the center said. In January, a 5-year-old Missouri boy found his grandfather's revolver and accidentally shot his 9-month-old brother in the head, a story that serves as one of many cautionary tales on gun accidents that are largely preventable, the group added.

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"One of the most significant ways we can address this serious public health and safety issue is to educate parents about the risks of unsafe access to guns in the home," Gross said. "Parents are the first line of defense against gun violence, so we all need to realize the risks and take the appropriate steps to make sure our kids do not have unsafe access to guns."


But it's not just children who are at risk of death or injury from guns. Access can lead to many more fatalities, as recent incidents have shown. Examples include an incident in New Mexico, where a month a 3-year-old dug out a handgun from a purse and accidentally fired a single shot, wounding his father and pregnant mother in an Albuquerque motel. Two days before New Year's Day in an Idaho Walmart, a 2-year-old fatally fired a handgun at his mother. And a month earlier, an Oklahoma toddler shot his young mother dead as she changed his baby sister's diaper.

In its report, the Brady Center also found a correlation between higher gun deaths in states with higher gun ownership rates, which included Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Wyoming. Other states with lower gun ownership rates, such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, also had the lowest gun deaths.

"Our research has quite simply shown that more guns equal more deaths," Adeskavitz said.

America currently has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with an average of 89 guns per 100 people, as opposed to countries like Canada (30 guns per 100 people) or Australia (15 per 100), according to data published by The Guardian in 2012.

Previously released statistics also show 112,375 infants, children, and teens were killed by firearms between 1981 and 2010, which is 25,000 more deaths than soldiers killed in the Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.

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Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields