It has become practically mandatory for any firearm prohibitionist to preface gun control rhetoric with the assertion: “Gun violence is the leading cause of death of children.” It’s a favorite of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, the White House Briefing Room, and just about every gun control advocate and anti-gun media outlet you could name (for example: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, to cite merely a few examples). As we have pointed out time and time and time again, however, it’s simply not true. Now, the Washington Post’s own fact checker has weighed in on the matter and has grudgingly admitted that the statement is only true if “children” include adults. “When you focus only on children – 17 years and younger –,” the Post article states, “motor vehicle deaths (broadly defined) still rank No. 1.”
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, the veracity of the statement depends on the meaning of what a “child” is. Gun control proponents arrive at their statement about “children” by including young adults aged 18 and 19 (and sometimes even older) in their datasets. As the Post article also notes, researchers additionally use different definitions of “motor vehicle death” to examine the issue of child mortality. Some count only crashes involving moving vehicles, while others count all vehicle-involved deaths, including those involving stationary vehicles and vehicles colliding with pedestrians. Only by using a narrow definition of “motor vehicle death,” a definition of “child” that includes young adults, and a broad definition of “gun violence” does the number of “children’s” firearm-related deaths exceed those of vehicle-related deaths.
The Post makes much of the fact that the gap between the two sources of mortality is closing and that the United States is an outlier in the number of young people who die in firearm-related incidents. It also refuses to assign its traditional “Pinocchio” rating to the gun controllers’ claim. But it is unambiguous on the basic point: “When all motor vehicle accidents are counted, then motor vehicle deaths continue to exceed firearm deaths for children — defined as people under age 18 — whether or not infants are included.”
What the Post does not mention, but what bears emphasis, is that firearm prohibitionists do not make declarative statements to educate or enlighten people on the facts but to elicit an emotional response that the prohibitionists hope will increase support for gun control. In the case of “gun deaths” involving “children,” people will naturally think of accidents involving readily accessible guns stored in homes or vehicles or even kids killed in school shootings (thankfully the rarest version of this phenomenon by far). Indeed, the “child gun death” talking point is often used as a justification for so-called “safe storage laws” that seek to impose criminal penalties for storing guns loaded and ready for immediate use.
People may not, however, immediately associate this phrasing with young adult gang members battling over drug turf or using guns to resolve escalating “beefs” that originate on online social media platforms. These events, by contrast, are among the most common scenarios in which one person kills another with a gun in the U.S.
Of course, no decent person wants young people of any age dying by gunfire, no matter what the scenario. But broadly lumping all these incidents together into one category obscures the obvious fact that different approaches are necessary to effectively address each one. We have repeatedly made the same point about gun controllers’ insistence on inflating the number of “mass shootings” by applying that term to highly dissimilar events. Mainstream fact-checkers have called out this tactic, as well.
Needless to say, the Washington Post is not about to relent from its own habitual anti-gun advocacy, a point that is clear even from this fact check (and, ironically, from the paper’s own prior use of the claim its fact check now discredits). But the Post article at least illustrates how manipulating data and recharacterizing common terms to include uncommon meanings creates heat, rather than light, in the gun control debate.
In any case, we expect firearm prohibitionists to continue misleading about “child gun deaths” with abandon.