Teen violence drove spike in gun deaths, contrary to popular ‘talking point’: expert

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The spike in gun deaths among children from 2019 to 2021 was driven by older teens, likely tied to shutdowns of in-school learning during the pandemic, and follows the skyrocketing crime trend the U.S. witnessed in 2020, according to an expert.

Gun deaths among children and teenagers under 18 years of age increased by 50% from 2019 to 2021, Pew Research found, citing mortality statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data found that in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 1,732 gun deaths among kids, before increasing to 2,590 in 2021. 

The Pew study found that older children and teens were more likely to be killed in a shooting than younger children, finding that “those ages 12 to 17 accounted for 86% of all gun deaths among children and teens in 2021.”

Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Amy Swearer told Fox News Digital that the CDC data shows the increase in deaths is mostly driven by older teens, especially among 14- to 18-year olds. 

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Firearms in Oregon

Firearms are displayed at a gun shop in Oregon., on Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

“When you look at the CDC data closely, it’s clear that this increase isn’t because more young children are generally accessing guns and accidentally shooting someone, which was a big talking point from gun control advocates who worried about surging gun sales during the pandemic,” Swearer told Fox News Digital. 

“And while there’s a slight and worrying uptick in teen gun suicides between 2019 and 2021, it’s also clear that this is not even close to the most significant factor in rising juvenile gun death,” she added. “Instead, this is a problem driven largely by a sharp increase in gun homicides among older teenagers, predominantly those who are 14 to 18 years old.”

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Swearer pointed to CDC data showing that among 17-year-olds, for example, there were 180 excess deaths in 2021 compared to 2019, while there were 150 excess deaths among 16-year-olds during the same time period, and 100 excess deaths among 15-year-olds. Among 18-year-olds, there were 200 excess deaths in 2021 compared to 2019.  

LA cop car

Violent crime in America spiked during the pandemic and some of the most brazen acts have involved underage offenders. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Violence soared across the nation in 2020, when government-mandated lockdowns stemming from the pandemic upended daily lives and protests and riots stemming from the death of George Floyd spread across the nation. Murders across the board spiked by nearly 30% in 2020 compared to the year prior, according to FBI data, marking the largest single-year increase in killings since the agency began tracking the crimes.

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Swearer said “obviously” the spike in gun deaths among minors was tied to the violent homicide spike of 2020, but added lockdowns and their fallouts also likely played a role. 

“There’s also good reason to believe that at least one other factor in play for the specifically awful rise in teen homicides is the clear increase in older teens committing more crimes during this time frame – an increase that appears to directly coincide with spikes in chronic school absenteeism, a problem with which many school districts around the nation continue to struggle even after a return to in-person, post-pandemic learning,” she said. 

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school closed sign taped on door

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago on Jan. 5, 2022. (Reuters/Jim Vondruska)

Before the pandemic, about 8 million students were considered chronically absent from classes, which is defined when students miss 10% or more of schooling each year, according to the group Attendance Works, which tracks absenteeism. That number doubled to 16 million students in 2021-22, according to the same group. 

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Swearer explained that people who partake in criminal activity are “far, far more likely to themselves become victims of gun violence.” This is due to “targeted retaliatory responses, or because they’re more likely to be in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time,’ or because of legal interventions by law enforcement officers or armed civilians.”

Swearer pointed to a handful of news stories from this year and last showing teenagers across the country getting injured or killed by gunfire while allegedly trying to carry out crimes. 

A 14-year old in Houston, for example, was shot in the stomach this month by a homeowner after the teen allegedly tried to break into a car. Another article showed how two teenaged burglary suspects were shot and killed by a homeowner in Colorado last October. While another article showed a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy landed in the hospital with gunshot wounds after allegedly stealing a woman’s car in St. Louis last November. 

“​​Now, I think in some of these stories, the gun owner probably didn’t act in the most judicious or wise manner,” ,” she said. “But when you start stealing cars or breaking into homes, the risk of getting shot (justifiably or not) increases exponentially.”

Group of children in school

An image of students working class while a teacher speaks.  (iStock)

The Pew study found that homicides accounted for the majority of gun deaths among children, at 60%, while suicide accounted for 32% of such deaths. Accidents accounted for 5% of gun deaths among children, according to the study.

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Boys were also far more likely to die by guns than girls, accounting for 83% of the deaths in 2021 compared to girls at 17%. When broken down by race, Black children and teens accounted for 46% of all gun deaths in 2021, the majority of which were homicides, while White minors accounted for 32%, Hispanic minors at 17% and Asian children and teens at 1%.



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