Guns are the leading cause of death for kids — and gun sales are surging

Guns became the leading cause of death of U.S. kids and teens in 2020, overtaking car crashes.

That stark finding, based on data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illustrates the fatal consequences of America’s embrace of guns — as has the deadly attack on Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

It was the 212th mass shooting in the country this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Nineteen children and two adults died; that makes the incident the deadliest shooting at an elementary school since a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Yet the anguish and horror expressed by politicians and the public in the wake of such incidents has not translated into safer schools.

Meanwhile, firearm deaths of all types — homicide, suicide, unintentional and undetermined — increased by 29.5 percent among kids and teens from 2019 to 2020, according to the CDC data. That’s more than twice the relative increase across the general population. And there are no signs that this deadly trend is slowing down.

The Uvalde shooting was the third gun attack at a Texas school this year, following a shooting last week that injured one student at a Houston high school and one in March that injured a high school student in Dallas. The last major school shooting in Texas took place in 2018, when eight students and two teachers died at Santa Fe High School near Houston; 13 people were injured. Still, the state has a relatively low rate of child gun deaths compared with neighbors like Louisiana and Arkansas.

By all accounts, the United States is awash in guns. A 2018 analysis by the nonpartisan Small Arms Survey found that the ratio of guns to people in the U.S. — 120.5 guns for every 100 people — far outpaced that in other gun-loving countries.

And the rate at which Americans have been buying firearms has risen sharply in recent years, according to data from the FBI’s firearm background check system.

Many states have also relaxed their gun laws. Last year, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law authorizing people in the state to carry guns without a permit — a policy also known as “permitless carry,” which advocates also call “constitutional carry.” Twenty-five states now have such laws, with the vast majority enacted in the last decade.

While Americans are buying guns at a faster rate, the demographics of gun owners are also changing.

Since 2019, women have comprised the fastest-growing group of new gun buyers, accounting for half of first-time firearm purchasers, according to the 2021 National Firearms Study. It also found growing racial diversity among gun owners. Twenty percent of new gun owners between January 2019 and April 2021 were Hispanic, and another 20 percent were Black.

By contrast, people who bought guns during that period but were not new gun owners were predominantly white and male, as are gun owners overall.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this story. This story has been updated.

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