In 2016, vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for children between 1 and 19 years of age. The next-most frequent: guns.
Gun deaths that year killed almost twice as many children as cancer, which was the third-leading cause of death, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday (Dec. 20). Firearm-related injuries made up 15.4% of all childhood deaths that year, killing 3,143 kids. (Cancer caused 1,853 deaths, or just over 9% over childhood deaths. Cars killed 4,074 children.)
One in three US homes with children under 18 had a firearm in the house, and 43% of those homes reported that the gun was kept unlocked and loaded, according to the report.
In 2016, children in the US were 36 times more likely to be killed by a gun than the overall rate for children of 12 of the other wealthiest countries in the world, the researchers found. The US rate also eclipses that of low-to-middle-income countries; there were five times as many childhood gun deaths in the US than the overall rate in the seven low-to-middle-income countries that had 2016 data available.
The researchers used data from a US Centers for Disease Control database that compiles death certificates throughout the US; 2016 is the most recent year for which complete data is available. Of the 3,143 US childhood gun deaths that year, 1,865, or about 60%, were homicides. Another 35% (1,102 deaths) were suicides, and 4% (126 deaths) were unintentional shootings. The circumstances surrounding the remaining 1% (50 deaths) were too unclear to be categorized in this way.
“Children in America are dying or being killed at rates that are shameful,” Edward W. Campion, the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a physician, wrote in an editorial that was published the same day as the study. “The sad fact is that a child or adolescent in the United States is 57% more likely to die by the age of 19 years than those in other wealthy nations. America’s children and adolescents are at far higher risk for death than are youth in other developed countries such as England, Sweden, and Australia.”