1. Sofer, Dalia


A grim picture persists, exacerbated by scant research.


Article Content

According to a study in Pediatrics, using data gathered from 2012 to 2014, nearly 1,300 children die annually in the United States from firearm injuries, and an additional 5,790 suffer nonfatal gunshot wounds. The leading causes of death from firearms are homicide (53%), suicide (38%), and unintentional incidents (6%).

Figure. A Harlem ral... - Click to enlarge in new window A Harlem rally promotes New York State's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act as a model for national gun control legislation. Photo by Ethel Wolvovitz / The Image Works.

Boys are far more likely than girls to suffer fatal gunshot wounds, accounting in the study for 82% of deaths. Risk also increases with age, the researchers found: children ages 13 to 17 are about 12 times more likely to die of gunshot wounds than their younger counterparts. The annual homicide rate for black children is twice that of American Indians, four times that of Hispanics, and about 10 times higher than the rate for whites and Asian Americans. However, the rate of suicide by firearm among white and American Indian children is nearly four times that of blacks and Hispanics, and five times that of Asian Americans.


While gunshot deaths of younger children tend to be related to domestic disputes, those of older children are more likely to involve gangs, drugs, and criminal activity. Firearm suicides are most likely to be triggered by such factors as a recent or upcoming crisis (42%) and relationship problems (71%). The study's authors concluded that firearm injuries contribute to premature death and disability in children, making gun violence an important public health issue.


Political opponents of gun control, however, have long disputed this interpretation, and, since 1996, have successfully blocked the use of federal public health money for research into firearm violence. In 2015, then House Speaker John Boehner said of the public health argument: "I'm sorry, but a gun is not a disease." The National Rifle Association (NRA) pushed to exclude gun violence from federal public health activities following publication in 1993 of a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that concluded that a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide. Three years later, the NRA successfully lobbied Congress to pass the so-called Dickey Amendment, stipulating that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the [CDC] may be used to advocate or promote gun control." Congress also redirected $2.6 million that the CDC spent the previous year on firearm research to traumatic brain injury prevention.


While the Dickey amendment didn't overtly ban research into gun violence, it has chilled research initiatives to this day, despite an about-face by its author, Jay Dickey, an NRA member and former U.S. representative from Arkansas. A 2012 Washington Post article coauthored by Dickey and Mark Rosenberg, former director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, states: "We were on opposite sides of the heated battle 16 years ago, but we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries."


The CDC's 2016 funding for firearm research was $0, but the agency hasn't given up, requesting $10 million in the budget proposal now before Congress. Promisingly, states are also showing interest, notably California, which last year gave $5 million to the University of California, Davis, to develop a firearm violence research center.-Dalia Sofer




Fowler KA, et al Pediatrics 2017 140 1 e20163486