Guns and Weapons

In a First, Firearms Were Leading Cause of Death for US Children, Teens in 2020

Gun deaths among children and teens rose by 29 percent in a single year, largely because of an increase in homicides

6-year-old boy who was shot and killed
Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Guns became the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020, killing more people ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. than vehicle crashes, drugs overdoses or cancer.

More than 4,300 died of firearm-related injuries that year — a 29% increase from 2019 — according to a research letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter analyzed decades of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"In the last 40 years, and almost certainly before that, this is the first time that firearm injuries have surpassed motor vehicle crashes among kids," said a co-author of the letter, Jason Goldstick, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan.

Goldstick said homicides, rather than suicides, made up the majority of firearm deaths among children and teens in 2020. Gun killings, which disproportionately affect younger Americans, went up by 33% from 2019 to 2020.

The number of car-related deaths — the former leading cause of death among children and teens — has dropped dramatically in the U.S. over the last 20 years, likely because of vehicle safety improvements. Around 3,900 people ages 1 to 19 died from vehicle crashes in 2020.

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