Car rates

For the first time, guns killed more young people than cars in 2020

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Guns killed more children and teens in 2020 than car crashes, which have long been the leading cause of death among young people, according to a Washington Post analysis.

The change was caused by a 30% increase in gun deaths among people aged 19 and under in 2020. Gun deaths continued to outpace cars for this age group in 2021, a found The Post, as the rate of firearm murders rose an additional 8%.

Post Analysis Reviewed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention death records for people ages 1 to 19 from 2011 through October 2021. A research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) last week pointed out that firearms fire had become the leading cause of death for these ages in 2020, motor vehicle fatalities, which include pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders.

The Post found deep racial disparities in the overall pattern. Non-Hispanic black youth are the only group for whom guns are more lethal than cars. For non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics and non-Hispanic Native Americans, cars still kill many more young people than guns, The Post found.

Black youth, who have long suffered the highest gun death rates among all racial and ethnic groups, has experienced a 39% jump – the biggest increase – in 2020. The rate for blacks young people rose a further 13% in the first 10 months of 2021, the last for which CDC death records are available.

Gun deaths also increased 37% for young Hispanics in 2020 and 17% for non-Hispanic whites. Vehicles, however, still kill more young people than firearms for these demographics.

Firearm deaths also increased 34% for non-Hispanic Native Americans and Alaska Native Americans in 2020. This group has the second highest rate of firearm deaths after non-Hispanic blacks.

Asians have the lowest death rates from firearms, as well as vehicles. Guns killed roughly the same number of young Asians as vehicles in 2020 and 2021. The gun death rate for Asians declined in both years.

“The increase in gun-related mortality reflects a longer-term trend and shows that we continue to fail to protect our young people from a preventable cause of death,” the authors of the NEJM research paper wrote.

The country is very active in trying to reduce vehicle fatalities, said Jennifer M. Whitehill, a University of Massachusetts researcher who specializes in injury prevention. The government spends money and uses research to develop policies for safer roads and vehicles.

“But our government has been unwilling or unable to do the same with gun deaths and injuries,” Whitehill said.

Although governments “regulate drivers and vehicles,” she said, “sense policies that might reduce shootings aren’t widely implemented.”

If the country viewed gun deaths as preventable – as it does traffic accidents – Whitehill said “families might not experience this grief and terrible loss over and over again.”