One recent afternoon, I stepped outside my apartment to take my dog on a walk when I was met with a heavy police presence. The street was completely blocked off. My neighborhood had become the site of yet another heartbreaking incident – a drive-by shooting that left three juveniles and one adult injured, victims of an onslaught of 59 gunshots. The sound of gunfire had become disturbingly routine in my community, underscoring the urgent need to address the devastating impact of gun violence on our community and particularly our children.
Guns are the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 24. The pervasive growth of gun violence in the United States is a concern across all age groups, but is particularly poignant when considering its unique and disproportionate effects on children and teenagers. Homicide is the largest cause of death among children and teens, outpacing suicide, accidents and any other firearm death. About 60% of all gun deaths of children and teens are homicides, 18% more than adult gun deaths. Youth in the United States are disproportionately caught in the crossfire of intentional gun violence, leaving families and communities reeling in anguish.
Gun violence has far-reaching implications beyond its immediate physical impact. Children who experience gun violence, whether at home, school, or in their larger communities, face profound challenges to their daily lives. The ability to simply live, attend school and nurture their mental health becomes a struggle. A 2021 study showed that 25% of children who survived gun-related injuries were subsequently diagnosed with new mental health disorders within the next year. These diagnoses encompassed a range of issues, from trauma-induced disorders to substance abuse and disruptive behavioral conditions.
School-aged children also face anxiety attending school due to gun violence. A Pew Research Center survey revealed that 57% of 13-17 year olds experience persistent anxiety and worry about the possibility of a mass shooting unfolding within their schools. This heightened state of anxiety disrupts not only their academic endeavors but also their overall emotional well-being and sense of safety.
An additional complexity is the glaring racial disparity in the impact of gun-violence. Black children and teenagers experience gun violence at an alarmingly higher rate, constituting 46% of childhood victims. Black children in the United States are about five times more likely to die from gun violence than their white counterparts. Disturbingly, 84% of gun-related deaths among Black youth are homicides, compared to twenty-four percent among white children and teenagers.
Hispanic communities are also disproportionately affected by gun violence. 65% of all gun deaths among Hispanic youth (under age 24) are classified as violent homicides. The tragic shooting at Robb Elementary school in 2022 where 19 children lost their lives, occurred in Uvalde, Texas. Uvalde, Texas is a community where nearly 82% of the population is Hispanic. Gun related homicides among Hispanic males ages 15-19 are four times higher than non-Hispanic white youth of the same age. Furthermore, a revealing statistic shows that 48% of Hispanic youth residing in major U.S. cities live less than a mile away from a recent firearm incident occurring within the past year.
While it is reassuring that most gun injuries sustained by children do not result in fatality, an equally concerning issue is the increased susceptibility to repeat firearm injury. Dr. Kristen Mueller (and others) conducted a study that found 1 of every 14 gunshot victims will experience repeat firearm injury within a year. The risk of repeat violence increases as each year passes. Dr. Kathleen O’Neill shed light on the correlation between multiple firearm injuries and a fear that may drive victims to carry firearms themselves or to resort to resolving conflicts through gun violence.