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New Study: Guns Kill Kids More Than Drugs

New study shows guns cause biggest death rate for kids
Written by Sarah Friedman

Both guns and drugs have increased as reasons for fatal injuries in kids under 18, according to study

A new study just came out that says guns kill more kids than anything else, even more than drugs; and it’s definitely worth taking note of.

The study setup

The current headline is related to a study which was conducted by the American Association of Pediatrics; the biggest association of professional pediatrics in the United States. The study is entitled Trends in Pediatric Nonfatal and Fatal Injuries, and was published in October 2023. The study, about guns, drugs and guns, which notes the general rise in pediatric deaths related to homicides, suicides, and poisonings in the past, “compared trends in fatal and nonfatal injuries in children, across intent and mechanism of injury.”

In order to collect data, study investigators accessed CDC, National Center for Health, and WISQARS (Web-based injury statistics query and reporting system) data related to fatal injuries from 2011-2021, and nonfatal injuries from 2011-2020.

The latter agency provides data on fatal injuries by way of death certificates, and gives exact death counts for US deaths according to age, intent, and reason for death. It also provides nonfatal injury information via national estimates, based on weighted data collected from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

Children fatalities
Children fatalities

Study results: guns, drugs, and more

In 2011, the rate of fatal injuries for children, was 14.07 out of 100,000. This went up to 17.3 out of 100,000 by 2021. Nonfatal injuries did not rise. Rather, they went down from 11,592.56 out of 100,00 to 5359.73 out of 100,000 in 2020. Both nonfatal injuries that were unintentional decreased (54.9%), as well as assaults (59.8%). There was, however, an increase in self-harm injuries of the nonfatal variety, by 57.1%.

If you’re wondering how this all relates to the headline, this is where that part comes in. According to study investigators, fatalities of several kinds, increased over this time span. The biggest increase was in drug poisonings that resulted in death, which went up a huge 133.3%. This was followed by deaths related to guns, with an increase of 87.1%, and suffocation-related deaths, which increased by 12.5%. These are the levels of increase in that time period, but the totals in each category are different.

Nonfatal injuries went down overall, but not in every category. Where they did decrease were the following reasons: death related to falls, overexertion, being struck, motor vehicle accidents, and cut pierce injuries. They decreased by 52.8%, 66.7%, 63%, 47.3%, and 36.7%, respectively. In other categories of nonfatal injuries there was no change, like drowning. Not only did deaths increase greatly in the categories of poisonings and firearms; but nonfatal injuries in these categories also increased, by 9.9% and 113% respectively.

The category with the overall highest fatality rate for children, was firearms. This was followed by drowning at #2, suffocation at #3; and poisonings (drug-related) coming in at #4; although the latter had the biggest increase during the designated period. From 2011-2020, the overall rate of fatality cases for children increased 250%. Essentially, while nonfatal injuries decreased, fatalities for children have actually skyrocketed.

One of the interesting (and scary) finds from the data, is that during the corona pandemic, from 2020-2021, pediatric injuries resulting in death increased greatly. As numbers do not currently go past this point, its impossible to say if this was a short-lived trend, or if it continues post-corona.

What to get out of this

Investigators note that its possible the decrease in nonfatal injuries could be related to “recent public health interventions targeting pediatric safety partnered with technological advancements and legislative requirements.” It gives examples like improved technologies for car seats, along with helpful legislative campaigns. But this doesn’t do anything to change the fact that deaths are rising for kids, particularly related to guns and poisonings (drugs). It blames a lack of public health legislation in these categories.

Deaths from drugs and guns increased for children
Deaths from drugs and guns increased for children

Investigators posit that it would be useful to have better laws imposed, more public awareness, and improvement in health care; to help with both fatal and nonfatal injuries. But they are also hesitant to say these measures are enough in and of themselves, given changes in overall society. In the end, they conclude that “Continued research and surveillance are crucial to monitor trends, evaluate interventions, and inform evidence-based strategies for effective injury prevention and mitigation.”

Studies speak in formal language, and writers don’t like to make big statements much of the time. What we can really get out of this in plain English, is that there’s a massive issue with kids dying from things they don’t need to die from. Some things will always happen; like falling, and car accidents, and accidental drownings.

These aren’t desirable, but they are basic things, and they’ve actually decreased (aside from drowning). The idea that the two biggest categories of increase for kids dying are guns and drugs; says a huge amount about our overuse of these things in life. I expect the myriad of school shootings help drive up the statistics for guns killing kids. The study does not differentiate, or give statistics for school vs non-school shooting deaths.

No matter how you look at it, this is bad news. We see headlines all the time about rising opioid overdose deaths, and it should be remembered, that this use is often by people who have children. Children that can swallow what’s lying around, or even get into their parent’s pill bottles. When a drug problem that involves brightly colored pills affects adults, it also affects the children around them.

This is similar to firearms. Those that have them, often have children. And those children can pick up a gun left on a floor, or pry open a cabinet where they’re kept. In both cases of guns and drugs, its quite possible that some parents/adults, actually take part in shooting/drug activities with their children. Especially with guns, this is expected. And while guns have a place in terms of hunting; what we know from the scarily ubiquitous school shootings, is that if the wrong person has access; this can lead to grave and horrible circumstances.

Guns killing kids, what can be done?

This is a huge question, and incredibly controversial in nature. And quite frankly, it does not seem that governments are actively trying to do the things necessary to stop so many kids from dying from either guns or drugs.

Kids and deaths from guns has greatly increased
Kids and deaths from guns has greatly increased

I say this because, while tons gets reported on the growing opioid epidemic; its spoken about so incorrectly, its almost scary. This is a problem of doctor prescription that has now led into a black market; while still retaining its issue of doctor prescription. Yet no one is making it illegal, or stopping the legal production or prescription. Speaking about it like a black market issue that exists because of Mexico, is so roundly incorrect; it means those speaking about it, aren’t wanting to address it correctly publicly.

So while every state has settlements with opioid producers and providers, none will make laws to stop their production, prescription, and sale. This indicates a desire for them to stay, not for them to go. Some will argue that these are needed medications; but that argument forgets (or misunderstands) that we survived millennia without them, and have plenty of natural products (including opium itself) which can aid in pain relief, without the mass death issue of synthetic opioids.

Guns present an even more controversial issue. Sure, no one wants the wrong person with a gun in their hands. Or even a situation where kids can access something just because it happens to be there. But at the same time; there is a stable and reasonable argument that its not so much about the guns, but the people who use them. Plenty of people go out and hunt every day, and they’re not having a problem controlling themselves, or using their guns improperly. It’s understandable that they don’t want their rights taken away, because of someone else’s inability for control, or desire to hurt other people.

Perhaps the weightier issue, and the harder one to fix; is that these gun violence and drug issues signal a building of stress among residents. One that leads to a need to zone out completely, or blow off steam in horrible ways. Perhaps how we’re treated by our over-lording government bodies, and each other; is the real issue in this. Perhaps when we’re treated better, we also act better. As a basic logic point; the best way to ensure a safe society; is by ensuring a population is treated well, and functionally stable.


That so many kids are dying from guns and drugs in America, and that rates have increased so greatly; is a major cause for concern. Perhaps if those people who get paid so well to make our laws in their fancy offices, start thinking of us as people, and not business deals; things might actually improve.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.