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Guns Killed a Record Number of Children in the US in 2021

Gun deaths of children increased by over 40 percent between 2018 and 2021.

A memorial outside of Oxford High School continues to grow on December 3, 2021, in Oxford, Michigan.

Child gun deaths hit a record high in 2021, breaking the previous record set just one year before, new research finds.

A total of 4,752 children in the U.S. died gun-related deaths in 2021, a new study found using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. This is an 8.8 percent increase in the pediatric gun mortality rate for 2020 and a staggering 41.5 percent increase from 2018.

This horrifying trend shows no signs of stopping, experts say. In 2020, guns became the leading cause of death of children in the U.S. — surpassing car crashes for the first time in recent recorded history, and far surpassing COVID-19 deaths.

The analysis, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics last week, also found that the disparity in gun deaths among Black children compared to other groups remains high. Despite Black people making up less than 14 percent of the population across the U.S., 50 percent of children killed by guns in 2021 were Black, while Black children accounted for 67.3 percent of firearm homicide victims.

The researchers also found a correlation between poverty and pediatric gun deaths, with children in states with higher rates of poverty having a higher chance of dying due to firearms.

Overall, 64 percent of the pediatric gun deaths were homicides, 30 percent were suicides and 3.5 percent were categorized as unintentional. Eighty-five percent of children who died firearm-related deaths were male. Many of the states with the highest rates of child gun deaths were also states with some of the loosest gun laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety’s rankings, like Mississippi, Alabama and Montana.

“This is undoubtedly one of our chief public health crises in this country,” Chethan Sathya, lead author of the study and pediatric trauma surgeon in New York, told NBC. “The most likely reason that your child will die in this country is at the hands of a firearm. That’s not acceptable.”

Sathya added that researchers thought they would see a decline in gun-related deaths from 2020 as pandemic measures eased and children were outside of their homes more. The fact that gun deaths rose despite that prediction, Sathya said, suggests that the violence is now an “alarming new baseline.”

This means that it’s possible that data from 2022 will also show another record high number of pediatric gun deaths. An analysis by The Washington Post earlier this year found that the number of school shootings hit a record high in 2022, with 46 shootings at K-12 schools.

The research follows findings that a record number of people in the U.S. died due to guns in 2021, with 48,830 deaths, according to a separate analysis of CDC data. The report authors said that the reason for the increase in gun violence — and, indeed, deaths and violence in general — is the increase in gun purchasing and access in recent years.

Despite the rise in gun violence, conservative state lawmakers have been working to loosen gun laws at a rapid pace. In the year after the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022, state lawmakers passed 93 gun-related bills, 56 percent of which were aimed at expanding access to guns or providing protections for the gun industry.