Summary: Since 2017, for the first time, US child and young adult deaths from firearms exceeded those from motor vehicles. Why? Because we’ve improved car safety, and failed abysmally to improve gun safety. Why? Because gun organizations have opposed research and regulation. This must change.
Crossing Lines — A Change in the Leading Cause of Death among U.S. Children, New England Journal of Medicine, April 16, 2022, by Lois K. Lee et al.
Injuries are the most common cause of death among children, adolescents, and young adults between 1 and 24 years of age in the United States; indeed, injuries are responsible for more deaths among children and adolescents than all other causes combined. For more than 60 years, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of injury-related death among young people. Beginning in 2017, however, firearm-related injuries took their place to become the most common cause of death from injury. This change occurred because of both the rising number of firearm-related deaths in this age group and the nearly continuous reduction in deaths from motor vehicle crashes. The crossing of these trend lines demonstrates how a concerted approach to injury prevention can reduce injuries and deaths — and, conversely, how a public health problem can be exacerbated in the absence of such attention. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of firearm-related deaths among children, adolescents, and young adults increased from 6998 to 10,186, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2000, motor vehicle-related injuries resulted in 13,049 deaths among young people. Twenty years later, there has been a nearly 40% decrease, with 8234 motor vehicle traffic deaths recorded in 2020.
Although substantial federal funding has been devoted to research on motor vehicle crashes, the firearm industry and gun-rights organizations, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been effective at keeping federal dollars from financing firearm-related research. Between 1996 and 2019, little federal research funding was appropriated for firearm-injury prevention.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
We do have some good news. Our industry designed to provide the beneficial essential task of transporting human beings has been effective in reducing injuries and deaths through better design of vehicles and improvement of public safety standards. The industry and our public stewards are to be commended.
On the other hand, we have an industry designed to produce detrimental lethal projectiles, and what do we do? We protect and embellish that industry to the degree that it has moved into first place as the most common cause of death among children and young adults.
Think about that. We sacrifice our children to an industry that many believe does not provide substantial benefit to society. We defer to gun-rights organizations despite broad public support for gun regulation.
Look at the tremendous gains we made with traffic safety – for an enormous industry that is essential to our commerce. The gun industry? Some of us wish it would disappear, but since its preservation seems assured, let’s focus on harm mitigation. The horrendous record on injury and death tells us we’re long past due for accelerated research and regulation to improve safety. Our children deserve no less, especially after seeing the tragic consequences of our decades of delay.