The State of America’s Children 2021 – Gun Violence2021-03-28T18:50:18-05:00

The State of America’s Children® 2021

Gun Violence


Even before COVID-19, another epidemic was killing our children at higher rates: gun violence. Gun violence was the leading cause of death for all children and teens ages 1-19 in 2018, surpassing motor vehicle accidents for the first time in history.1 Children and teens are far more likely to die from gunfire than COVID-19,2 yet our leaders continue to allow gun violence to go uncurbed and gun laws to go unchanged.

After years of congressional inaction, a growing number of children are paying with their lives. In 2019, 3,371 American children and teens were killed with guns—enough to fill more than 168 classrooms of 20 (see Table 35).

  • Child and teen gun deaths hit a 19-year high in 2017 and have remained elevated since.3
  • In 2019, nine children and teens were killed with guns each day in America—one every 2 hours and 36 minutes.4
  • Guns killed more children and teens than cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, HIV/AIDs, and opioids combined.5
  • While mass shootings grabbed fleeting public and policymaker attention, routine gunfire took the lives of more children and teens every week than the Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Columbine massacres combined.
  • Since 1963, nearly 193,000 children and teens have been killed with guns on American soil—more than four times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.6

Shamefully, gun deaths reflect only part of the devastating toll of America’s growing gun violence epidemic. Many more children and teens are injured than killed with guns each day in our nation.

  • For every child or teen fatally shot, another 5 suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds.7
  • An estimated 16,644 children and teens were injured with guns in 2018—one every 32 minutes.8

Gun violence affects all children, but children of color, boys, and older youth are at greatest risk.

  • Black children and teens had the highest gun death rate in 2019 (11.9 per 100,000) followed by American Indian/Alaska Native children and teens (6.4 per 100,000).9
  • Although Black children and teens made up only 14 percent of all children and teens in 2019, they accounted for 43 percent of child and teen gun deaths.10
  • Black children and teens were four times more likely to be killed with guns than their white peers.11
  • Eighty-six percent of children and teens who died from gunfire in 2019 were boys. Boys were six times more likely than girls to die in gun homicides. Black boys were 18 times more likely to be killed in gun homicides than white boys.12
  • Eighty-five percent of child and teen gun deaths occurred among 15- to 19-year-olds, but infants and toddlers were far from immune. Guns killed more preschoolers than law enforcement officers in the line of duty. In 2019, 86 children under 5 were killed with guns compared with 51 law enforcement officers in the line of duty.13

No child is safe in a nation with easy access to deadly weapons. Even before the pandemic drove up fear and gun sales, there were too many firearms in our homes and streets—and a shocking number were sold without background checks.

  • As of 2017, American civilians owned 393 million firearms—more than one gun per person. In contrast, U.S. military and law enforcement agencies possessed 5.5 million.14
  • Americans accounted for less than five percent of the global population, but owned nearly half (46 percent) of all civilian guns in the world.15
  • Nearly 1 in 5 guns are sold without a background check due to a loophole in federal law exempting sales at gun shows, online, or between private individuals.16

Children are learning there are no safe spaces in our gun-saturated nation. Many children even live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns and know where they are kept. Too often, this leads to tragic accidents and preventable deaths. With a growing number of children learning and playing at home during COVID-related closures, the risk of gun accidents and suicides has only increased.

  • A third of households with children have a gun and nearly half of gun-owning households with children do not store all of their firearms safely.17
  • An estimated 4.6 million children live in homes with at least one unlocked and loaded gun—and most children know where these guns are kept.18 About 3 in 4 children ages 5-14 with gun-owning parents know where firearms are stored and more than 1 in 5 have handled a gun in the home without their parents’ knowledge.19
  • Guns in the home are more likely to endanger than protect loved ones. The presence of a gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher.20
  • Eight children and teens are killed or injured in accidental shootings involving an improperly stored gun each day in America.21

It is long past time for leaders to end America’s gun violence epidemic. Congress must urgently pass common-sense gun safety measures like universal background checks and child access prevention laws to protect children from firearms in their homes, schools, and communities. All children deserve the chance to live, learn, and play safely—free from violence and fear.

COVID-19 is Magnifying Our Gun Violence Epidemic and Highlighting the Need for Immediate Reform

The pandemic has created and exacerbated so many crises for children and families and gun violence is no exception. Unprecedented increases in gun sales—coupled with financial insecurity, social isolation, and other stressors—are magnifying America’s gun violence crisis.

  • Nearly two million guns were sold in March 2020 alone—the second highest number of guns ever sold in a single month—and this disturbing trend continued in the months that followed.22
  • Even with much of the country on lockdown, mass shootings hit a record high in 2020. Children witnessed, suffered, or died in 611 mass shootings in 2020—up from 417 in 2019.23
  • Gun accidents in the home have also surged during the pandemic. School and child care closures have exacerbated children’s risk of dying in gun accidents at home. Between March and May 2020, accidental gun deaths by children increased by 30 percent relative to rates over the past three years.24
  • The pandemic has also intensified factors that contribute to gun-related domestic violence and community violence: job losses and financial insecurities have left victims of domestic violence more vulnerable to harm as well as fueling community gun violence.25

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the consequences of our nation’s longstanding failure to pass policies to keep children safe where they live and learn. Our leaders must not only advance meaningful solutions to address the COVID-19 crisis but also the ongoing gun violence crisis in America. We cannot allow children to die at the hands of these crises.