Child deaths by gun violence soared in the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study published Thursday in JAMA Network Openpart of a wider uptick in violent crime and mass shootings as firearm sales skyrocketed and lawmakers overcame a decades-long stalemate to pass some of the most significant federal gun legislation in years.
Guns killed more children during the Covid-19 pandemic than would have been expected given past trends, according to the peer reviewed analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, an independent organization that collects data from law enforcement, media, commercial and government sources.
There were 8,044 shootings from March 16, 2020 through December 2021 that killed 8,477 children, the researchers found, 733 more than expected given the number of gun-related deaths in children since 2014, around 1.12 extra child deaths a day.
These increases were concentrated among children ages 12 to 17 and in low-income areas or areas with high percentages of Black or Hispanic populations, which the researchers said indicate family and neighborhood conditions as possible factors.
The researchers said the figures—which they note could be an underestimate—put the increase in gun-related deaths on par with deaths from Covid-19, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said killed 752 children between January 2020 through December 2021.
The findings highlight the importance of considering indirect consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic alongside more direct ones like death from the disease, the researchers said.
What We Don't Know
What caused the increase in gun-related deaths among children. The study was observational and the researchers said the analysis cannot determine the precise cause of the increase. Possible drivers could include the psychological and economic strain due to the pandemic and the greater time spent at home (where guns are often kept) during school closures, they noted.
Firearms are now the number one cause of death for children and adolescents in the US, overtaking motor vehicle crashes in 2020. This was partly driven by sharp increases in firearm-related deaths in recent years, particularly a jump in firearm homicides from 2019 to 2020.
Gun violence in the US has surged in the last few years, with 2020 and 2021 marking some of the deadliest years on record, While mass shootings have captured public attention and galvanized lawmakers to pass some of the most significant federal gun legislation in decades, data suggests a large proportion of these deaths are driven by smaller but no less tragic events at homes and in streets. Guns are also implicated in large numbers of suicides and homicides, which make up the bulk of deaths. The US has one of the highest rates of firearm ownership—particularly among civilians—in the world, with some estimates putting this as greater than total population. This grew during the pandemic, when sales spiked and soared to record levels.
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