Updated: Sep 8
In 2020 and 2021, firearms contributed to the deaths of more children ages 1-17 years in the U.S. than any other type of injury or illness. The child firearm mortality rate has doubled in the U.S. from a recent low of 1.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 to 3.7 in 2021.
The United States has by far the highest rate of child and teen firearm mortality among peer nations. In no other similarly large, wealthy country are firearms in the top four causes of death for children and teens, let alone the number one cause. U.S. states with the most gun laws have lower rates of child and teen firearm deaths than states with few gun laws.
But, even states with the lowest child and teen firearm deaths have rates much higher than what peer countries experience.
In 2020 and 2021, firearms were involved in the deaths of more children ages 1-17 than any other type of injury or illness, surpassing deaths due to motor vehicles, which had long been the number one factor in child deaths. In 2021, there were 2,571 child deaths due to firearms—a rate of 3.7 deaths per 100,000 children, which is an increase of 68% in the number of deaths since 2000 and 107% since a recent low of 2013.
While the rate of firearm deaths among children has increased since 2000, the rate of motor vehicle deaths is now significantly lower than it had been. The number of motor vehicle deaths among children in 2021 was 49% lower than in 2000, though it did grow during the pandemic by 22% from 2019. Though fewer in number than firearm deaths among children, deaths due to poisonings, which include drug overdoses, have also grown, increasing 186% since 2000 and 103% since 2019.
Provisional CDC data from 2022 indicate that firearms continued to be the number one factor in child deaths for the third year in a row.
Because peer countries’ mortality data are not available for children ages 1-17 years old alone, we group firearm mortality data for teens ages 18 and 19 years old with data for children ages 1-17 years old in all countries for a direct comparison.
On a per capita basis, the firearm death rate among children and teens (ages 1-19) in the U.S. is over 9.5 times the firearm death rate of Canadian children and teens (ages 1-19). Canada is the country with the second-highest child and teen firearm death rate among similarly large and wealthy nations.
As might be expected, teenagers have higher firearm mortality rates than children. In the U.S., teens ages 18 and 19 have a firearm mortality rate of 25.2 per 100,000, compared to a rate of 3.7 per 100,000 for children ages 1-17 in the U.S. Even so, the child firearm mortality rate in the U.S. (3.7 per 100,000 people ages 1-17) is 5.5 times the child and teen mortality rate in Canada (0.6 per 100,000 people ages 1-19).
If the child and teen firearm mortality rate in the U.S. had been brought down to rates seen in Canada, we estimate that approximately 30,000 children’s and teenagers’ lives in the U.S. would have been saved since 2010 (an average of about 2,500 lives per year). This would have reduced the total number of child and teenage deaths from all causes in the U.S. by 13%.
The child and teen (ages 1-19 years) firearm mortality rate varies by state in the U.S. from 2.1 deaths per 100,000 in New York and New Jersey to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 in Louisiana. Even in New York and New Jersey, which have the lowest child and teen firearm mortality rates among those with available data, the rate is still over three times that in Canada.
Because there is no comprehensive national firearm registry, it is difficult to track gun ownership in the U.S. Instead, we look at the correlation between the number of child and teen firearm deaths and the number of gun laws in U.S. states (based on the State Firearm Law Database, which is a catalog of the presence or absence of 134 firearm law provisions across all 50 states).
States with more restrictive firearm laws in the U.S. generally have fewer child and teen firearm deaths than states with fewer firearm law provisions. Even so, these states on average have a much higher rate of child and teen firearm deaths than that of Canada and other countries. Among comparably large and wealthy countries, Canada has the second highest child and teen firearm death rate to the U.S. However, Canada generally has more restrictive firearm laws and regulates access to guns at the federal level. In the U.S., guns may be brought to states with strict laws from out-of-state or unregistered sources.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation