Gun Violence Is Having a Devastating Impact on Young People
Gun Violence Is Having a Devastating Impact on Young People
Children and teenagers are suffering from gun violence at disproportionate rates, all while some elected officials push for measures that would further endanger our young generations.
From 2019 to 2020, gun homicides among children and teenagers rose dramatically. As a result, firearms are now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 17.1 In addition, young Americans are suffering from a rapid and devastating rise in school shootings, increasingly mourning the loss of a parent due to firearm-related violence, and experiencing nonfatal gunshot injuries and gunshot threats at an alarming frequency.
Despite these concerning trends, some elected officials refuse to protect our youth from gun-related crimes. Instead, they are blocking commonsense gun safety laws and even pushing for counterproductive measures that would further endanger children and teenagers. This must change.
- From 2019 to 2020, gun homicides rose by 35 percent in the United States, but the increase was even higher among young Americans:
- Due to the increase in gun homicides among children and teenagers during 2020, gun deaths have surpassed vehicle-related deaths as the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 17.5
- While 2,159 children and teenagers died in vehicle-related accidents in 2020, 2,270 were killed with a gun that year.6
- According to a 2020 report, 3 in 5 victims of nonfatal shootings are under the age of 30,7 with most of these injuries being the result of interpersonal violence and leading to long-term implications for victims and family members:
- Young Americans are more likely to be threatened with a gun during a violent crime:
- A 2020 analysis showed that the rate of nonfatal gun-related crimes against Americans ages 12 to 30 was 2.2 times higher than the rate for Americans older than 30.10
- Even when shots are not fired, gun victimization leads to higher levels of stress as well as emotional and physical symptoms months after the crime.11
- Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at 331 schools, resulting in the deaths of at least 185 children and educators as well as another 369 injured by nonfatal gun wounds.12
- Incidents of gun violence in schools have spiked during the past two years, reaching an all-time high in 2021 with a record number of 42 school shootings.13
- Children exposed to gun violence in schools often experience short- and long-term consequences,14 including:
- Impaired cognitive functioning
- Feelings of hypervigilance
- Extreme noise sensitivity
- Difficulty with emotional regulation, bursts of anger, and defiance at home and school
- Trouble eating and sleeping as well as recurring nightmares
- Increased thoughts of death
- Heightened anxiety, depression, suicidality and self-harm, and separation anxiety.
- Fears of revictimization and survivor’s guilt are common among children in the immediate and long-term aftermath of a school shooting.15
- Seventy-two percent of parents of school-aged children are concerned about the possibility of gun violence in their children’s school.16
Examples of school shooting incidents
- Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas (May 24, 2022): 21 people killed
- Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan (November 30, 2021): 4 people killed
- Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas (May 18, 2018): 10 people killed
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (February 14, 2018): 17 people killed
- Townville Elementary School in Townville, South Carolina (September 28, 2016): 2 people killed
- Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (December 14, 2012): 26 people killed
- Every day, an estimated 41 children in the United States lose a parent to gun violence.17
- In an investigation covering 20 major U.S. cities, The Washington Post found that by the end of 2020, more than 1,550 parents were shot and killed, leaving more than 3,600 children without one or both of their parents.18
- There were only 11 days in 2020 for which researchers failed to find an instance of a child losing a parent to gun violence.
- The experience of losing a family member to gun violence can be particularly devastating for children. In contrast to losing a loved one to terminal illness, the sudden and shocking loss of a family member can often affect the emotional or physical development of a child, delaying and complicating the grief process.19
- Over the past few years, several states have enacted legislation to lower the minimum age for gun-carrying and have avoided raising age restrictions:
- Young people ages 18 to 20 make up 4 percent of the population yet perpetrate 18 percent of gun homicides.22
- In 2022, a young man in Uvalde, Texas, used a firearm and 375 rounds of ammunition purchased one day after his 18th birthday to kill 21 and injure 17 in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
- As of 2022, only 22 states have raised the minimum age to purchase firearms—from 18 to 21.
- In 2021, Texas lawmakers passed legislation making 18- to 20-year-olds eligible for a license to carry a handgun.23
- Elected officials from Texas, Louisiana, and Ohio have recently pushed to allow teachers to bring guns to schools or have armed school safety officers.24
- Putting more guns in schools is dangerous:
- In 2020, a security guard accidentally fired a gun in the school parking lot, striking another staff member in the eye.25
- In 2019, a first-grade student was injured after a substitute teacher carrying a handgun in his pocket unintentionally fired the weapon.26
- In 2018, a teacher with a Glock 21 .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun inadvertently fired the weapon during class, leaving three students injured by bullet fragments and falling debris.27
- According to a 2018 survey, more than 95 percent of school teachers don’t feel comfortable with a measure that would allow them to bring guns to schools.28
- Putting more guns in schools is dangerous:
The United States has a gun homicide rate among young people that is 49 times higher than that of other developed nations.29 Every day, three to four Americans under the age of 18 are murdered with a firearm. Clearly, our schools are no longer a safe place.
While young people are demanding action to pass gun violence prevention measures, elected officials are opting to line up with the gun lobby to pass policies that place children and teenagers at an even higher risk of gun violence. As Americans, we have to do more to protect young Americans from violent crime.
- Center for American Progress analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Injury Prevention & Control: Data & Statistics (WISQARS): Fatal Injury Data,” available at https://wisqars.cdc.gov/fatal-reports (last accessed June 2022).
- Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, “Nonfatal Gun Violence,” available at https://efsgv.org/learn/type-of-gun-violence/nonfatal-firearm-violence/ (last accessed June 2022).
- Zirui Song and others, “Changes in Health Care Spending, Use, and Clinical Outcomes After Nonfatal Firearm Injuries Among Survivors and Family Members,” Annals of Internal Medicine (2022), available at https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/full/10.7326/M21-2812?rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org.
- Eugenio Weigend Vargas and Rukmani Bhatia, “No Shots Fired: Examining the Impact and Trauma Linked to the Threat of Gunfire Within the U.S.” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2020), available at https://www.americanprogress.org/article/no-shots-fired/.
- Rose M.C. Kawaga and others, “Distress level and daily functioning problems attributed to firearm victimization: sociodemographic-specific responses,” Annals of Epidemiology 41 (2019): 35–43, available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31932142/; Eugenio Weigend Vargas and David Hemenway, “Emotional and physical symptoms after gun victimization in the United States, 2009-2019,” Preventive Medicine 143 (2021): 106374, available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33326829/.
- John Woodrox Cox and Steven Rich, “Scarred by school shootings,” The Washington Post, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/us-school-shootings-history/?utm_term=.1ea7594f817a (last accessed June 2022).
- John Woodrox Cox and Steven Rich, “‘Please help me’: Kids with guns fueled a record number of school shootings in 2021,” The Washington Post, December 31, 2021, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/12/31/2021-school-shootings-record/.
- James Garbarino, Catherine P. Bradshaw, and Joseph A. Vorrasi, “Mitigating the Effects of Gun Violence on Children and Youth,” The Future of Children 12 (2) (2002): 72–85, available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/1602739.
- Jessica Ravits, Wayne Drash, and Matthew Gannon, “The forgotten victims of gun violence,” CNN, September 6, 2016, available at https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/12/health/gun-violence-forgotten-victims/index.html; John Woodrox Cox and Chris Alcantara, “Twelve seconds of gunfire,” The Washington Post, June 9, 2017, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2017/06/09/run-gunfire-on-a-school-playground-still-haunts-the-first-graders-who-survived/?itid=lk_inline_enhanced-template.
- Ivana Saric, “Poll: Americans overwhelmingly prioritize gun control over ownership rights,” Axios, June 5, 2022, available at https://www.axios.com/2022/06/05/gun-control-laws-poll-prioritize.
- Johns Woodrox Cox, “Orphaned by gun violence: Two kids, two shootings, two parents gone,” The Washington Post, April 7, 2022, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/interactive/2022/parents-killed-gun-violence-america/. Data do not include gun suicides.
- Irene Searles McClatchy, M. Elizabeth Vonk, and Gregory Palardy, “The Prevalence of Childhood Traumatic Grief—A Comparison of Violent/Sudden and Expected Loss,” Omega 59 (4) (2009): 305–323, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2190/OM.59.4.b.
- Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Young people demand action on gun violence,” March 19, 2018, available at https://giffords.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/2018-03-19-Ypulse-Youth-Poll-Memo-2.pdf.
- Elizabeth M. Stone and others, “Support for gun policies among young adults in the U.S., 2017-2019,” Preventive Medicine 135 (2020): 106094, available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32305579/.
- Everytown for Gun Safety, “Has the state raised the minimum age for purchasing firearms?,” available at https://everytownresearch.org/rankings/law/minimum-age-to-purchase/ (last accessed June 2022).
- Kera Mallory Falk, “Here Are The New Texas Gun Laws Going Into Effect On Sept. 1,” Houston Public Media, August 30, 2021, available at https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/politics/2021/08/30/407291/here-are-the-new-texas-gun-laws-going-into-effect-on-sept-1.
- Moriah Balingit, “Republicans reluctant to pass gun regulations, push for arming teachers,” The Washington Post, May 25, 2022, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/05/25/harden-schools-arm-teachers-uvalde/; Sara Al-Arshani, “Louisiana and Ohio want to introduce laws that would make it easier for teachers to arm themselves following Texas school shooting,” Business Insider, June 4, 2022, available at https://www.businessinsider.com/louisiana-ohio-laws-armed-teachers-uvalde-texas-school-shooting-2022-6.
- Associated Press, “Guard accidentally shoots worker at Florida private school,” March 6, 2020, available at https://apnews.com/article/2b379668329939790105b6e1ccd92e98.
- Carol Robinson, “Gun in pocket of 74-year old substitute teacher discharges in 1st-grade Alabama classroom,” The Birmingham News, March 22, 2019, available at https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/2019/03/gun-in-pocket-of-72-year-old-substitute-teacher-discharges-in-1st-grade-alabama-classroom.html.
- Cox and Rich, “Scarred by school shootings.”
- CSUN Today, “Survey Finds that Teachers Do Not Want Guns in Classrooms,” Press release, February 11, 2019, available at https://csunshinetoday.csun.edu/media-releases/survey-finds-that-teachers-do-not-want-guns-in-the-classroom/.
- Erin Grinshteyn and David Hemenway, “Violent Death Rates: The United States Compared to other High-Income OECD Countries, 2010,” American Journal of Medicine 129 (3) (2016): 266–273, available at https://repository.usfca.edu/nursing_fac/127/.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.
Eugenio Weigend Vargas
Research Associate, Gun Violence Prevention