Firearm-related deaths among children have decreased since the mid-1990s, but new research heralded by gun control supporters claims the opposite. A research abstract entitled United States Childhood Gun-Violence – Disturbing Trends, presented during the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibitions by physicians Arin L. Madenci and Christopher B. Weldon, claims that from 1997 to 2009, in-hospital deaths of children resulting from gunshot wounds increased nearly 60 percent, and hospitalizations of children for gunshot wounds increased 80 percent.
Predictably, gun control advocates and their allies in the media have taken the researchers’ claims as the gospel. With its usual degree of precision, MSNBC reported that the “[n]umber of American children who have died from guns has spiked 60% in a decade.”
The study in question uses data from several editions of the Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID), which contains information on only pediatric hospitalizations. However, data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that firearm-related deaths among persons aged 0-14 years actually decreased 39 percent from 1997 to 2009, and decreased 45 percent if the trend is carried through 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.
One glaring mistake in the study’s abstract, is that it fails to stipulate what ages it includes in its definition of “children.” As longtime readers of the Alert well know, anti-gun advocates have often exaggerated the number of firearm-related deaths among children by counting deaths among juveniles and young adults ages 15-19 along with those among children. However, firearm-related deaths among all persons ages 0-19 decreased 33 percent through 2009 and 37 percent through 2010.
More importantly, the per capita rate of such deaths has decreased to an even greater extent. Among persons ages 0-14, it dropped 44 percent from 1997 to 2009, and 48 percent from 1997 to 2010, while among all persons ages 0-19 it dropped 42 percent through 2009 and 45 percent through 2010.
Some of the media coverage of Madenci and Weldon’s presentation gives the impression that accidental firearm deaths among children are a growing problem. NBC’s coverage was typical, highlighting the case of a three-year-old who died tragically after finding an unsecured firearm under his parents’ bed.
In reality, from 1997 to 2010, the rate of firearm accident deaths decreased 62 percent among children (ages 0-14), 69 percent among ages 15-17, and 62 percent among ages 18-19.
The CDC’s data show that the country is trending in the right direction and has been for some time. The fact that this trend is occurring alongside an increase in the number of privately owned firearms should help to divorce some from the notion that more guns inherently mean more gun deaths. Further, we hope that in the future, the media will be more critical when reporting research findings that conflict so profoundly with the other available data on the subject. But we won’t hold our breath.