By John R. Lott Jr.
A favorite talking point from the Biden White House is that guns are the leading cause of death of children. The problem is that it is false.
“The number one cause of death of the children in America is gun violence,” Vice President Kamala Harris claimed on June 2. Later the White House tweeted, “Guns are the #1 KILLER of CHILDREN.” President Biden has made the same claim multiple times this year.
The Washington Post parroted this claim, running the headline: “Why guns are America’s number one killer of children.” Similarly, the NPR headline says: “Firearms overtook auto accidents as the leading cause of death in children,” and even the BBC got in on the act: “Gun deaths were the leading killer of US children in 2020.” Fact-checkers from Newsweek to Snopes also push these claims.
The first question is: What is a child? For those under 18, vehicle deaths are consistently greater than those from firearms. Adding homicides, unintentional deaths, and suicides together shows 2,443 total deaths from vehicles and 2,218 from firearms. In 2021, there were again 2,668 vehicle and 2,519 firearm deaths. When we exclude justifiable homicides that are committed in self-defense, that number falls by several hundred.
So, even if we are counting 17-year-old gang members as “children,” the White House’s claim is incorrect. In 2019 and 2020, more minors died from suffocation.
Homicides for all ages have been on the upswing across the country starting in 2020. Democrats blame this increase on guns while ignoring police budget cuts, refusal to prosecute violent criminals, bail reform, and mass release of many young, healthy inmates during the pandemic.
Many people would even define children at even younger ages. But the claims by gun control advocates like Biden and Harris are only possible if they define everyone under 20 as children.
For those under 20, firearm deaths exceed vehicle deaths for 2020 and 2021 when you use the CDC firearm homicide data. When you use the FBI data, the vehicle deaths exceed the firearm deaths for 2019 and 2020, and likely 2021, though the FBI data isn’t available for that year. The bottom line is that about a third of the firearm deaths for those under 20 involve homicide, where the victims are 18 and 19 years old. Approximately 20 percent involve homicides for 15, 16, and 17-year-olds. These deaths are largely gang-related, and even banning guns is unlikely to stop drug gangs from obtaining guns to protect their extremely valuable drugs.
Nor does it make sense to blame rising suicides on guns. When gun bans are enacted, there are many other effective ways to commit suicide, such as hanging, walking in front of a train, jumping from a height, using explosives, or taking cyanide. Indeed, while gun bans are associated with drops in firearm suicides, there is no change in total suicides.
With the FBI data, firearm suicides make up about 40 percent of all firearm deaths. So, for example, in 2020, for those under 20, removing suicides would reduce the number of firearm deaths—using the numbers from the CDC—from 4,253 to 2,960, and—using the FBI murder rate data—from 3,405 to 2,112.
Banning guns might reduce firearm suicides and cases of self-defense, but it won’t reduce firearm murders. Indeed, a ban on guns, even a handgun ban like the ones we’ve seen in Washington and Chicago, inevitably makes things much worse. After every gun ban, murder rates have gone up.
One would think that just once, out of simple randomness, murder rates would have gone down or remained the same after a ban. But whenever crime data are available from both before and after a ban, we can see that murder rates have gone up (often by huge amounts).
Gun control advocates will tell you that Washington and Chicago weren’t fair tests. They will point out that criminals could still get guns in Virginia or Maryland, or in Illinois or Indiana. While that might explain why murder rates didn’t fall as promised, it doesn’t explain why murder and violent crime rates went up.
Even island nations have fared no better. After the UK banned handguns in January 1997, its homicide rate rose by 50 percent over the following eight years. The rate returned to earlier levels only after a 14 percent increase in the number of police.
Even more dramatic post-ban surges occurred in Jamaica and Ireland, with six or sevenfold increases in homicide rates.
Democrats can’t accept their responsibility for increased violent crime in 2020 and 2021. They want to blame guns, and there’s no better way to do so than to keep claiming that guns are the number one killer of “children.”