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For years, car accidents were the leading killer of children in the United States. But that’s no longer the case. Guns now kill more children than cars. Firearms have also displaced cars as the leading trauma-related cause of death overall in the nation. These sad facts were nowhere more evident than in the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. 

The mass shooting in Uvalde killed 19 children

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Memorials for victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas | Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. During the time he was in the school, he fatally shot 19 students along and two teachers before Border Patrol agents killed him. 

The gunman had purchased his semiautomatic weapon for his 18th birthday. Before driving to the school, he also shot his grandmother, leaving her in critical condition. The reason for the rampage remains unclear, but the incident is just another example of mass shootings at schools and elsewhere nationwide. Unfortunately, gunfire associated with mass shootings and other incidents has replaced car accidents as the leading killer of children in the U.S. 

A recent study shows car accidents are no longer the leading killer of children in the U.S.

In fact, guns have killed so many children recently that these weapons have overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death among young people in the United States. 

As the New England Journal of Medicine recently reported, gun-related deaths increased 13.5% between 2019 and 2020. But for those between the ages of 1 and 19, the number of deaths caused by a firearm increased nearly 30%. About 10% of the total gunfire deaths during that period involved children, for a total of 4,357. 

This switch from cars to guns as the leading cause of death among children represents a significant societal change. As NPR explains, vehicles led the list of causes of death in this country for over 60 years. But as car safety has improved, vehicle-related deaths have declined. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of gun-related deaths, which have continued to increase year over year. 

Despite the fact that mass shootings have increased in the past three decades, most children who die from gunfire are involved in non-mass shooting incidents. Around 65% of child gun-related deaths are the result of homicides, and around 35% are classified as suicides. 

But deadly car crashes spiked in 2021

Though fatal car crashes in the past 30 years have trended downward, 2021 saw a spike in such car accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that in the first three quarters of 2021, around 31,720 people died in car crashes in the United States. That represented an increase of 12% from the previous year, when 28,325 people died in car crashes during the same period.

The increase in the first quarters of 2021 means the U.S. was on track to have the highest number of traffic-related fatalities since 2006 and the highest percentage increase during the first nine months in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history. Unsurprisingly, the NHTSA responded to this data with alarm.

“We have to change a culture that accepts as inevitable the loss of tens of thousands of people in traffic crashes,” Dr. Seven Cliff, the agency’s deputy administrator, said. “This will require a transformational and collaborative approach to safety on our nation’s roads.”

Many people would argue that the same needs to be said of a culture that accepts thousands of gun deaths. 


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