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Are Guns Leading Cause Of Kids' Death? Only If 19-Year-Olds Count

Last month, both a White House news release and Vice President Harris declare that gun violence is the leading cause of death of children in the U.S.. The Washington Post fact checker asks if that is true. Deaths from gun violence, after remaining relatively stable from 1999 to 2014, have spiked in recent years, to a peak of 48,830 in 2021, according to data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The White House cites a study by the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University that includes deaths of 18- and 19-year-olds, who are legally considered adults in most states.

When you focus only on children — 17 and younger — motor vehicle deaths (broadly defined) still rank No. 1, as they have for six decades, though the gap is rapidly closing. Deaths of children from gun violence have increased about 50 percent from 2019 to 2021, CDC data show. During the coronavirus pandemic, there was a surge in firearm sales and an increase in the use of firearms in deaths by suicide — especially among children in rural areas. There’s no question that 18 and 19 signify the final years of being a teenager, but there is also broad agreement that 18 is a threshold age between being a child and adulthood. All but three states set the age of majority at 18. The fact that in more than half the states people as young as 18 can purchase firearms is significant, because access to firearms increases the risk of violence. Six years ago this month, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people. He legally bought a Smith & Wesson M&P semiautomatic rifle from a licensed dealer. “Both the 2022 and 2023 Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence analysis of CDC data shows gun violence is the leading cause of death among children 1 to 17 years old as well as teens 18 and 19 years old,” said Cassandra Crifasi of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


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