While gun violence has been a leading cause of death for American children for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has skyrocketed it to the top of the list of causes while widening racial disparities.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, from 2015 to early 2020, black children in four major US cities were 27 times more likely to be shot than white children. But, from 2020 to the end of 2021, black children were 100 times more likely to be shot than white children, according to new research published in JAMA Network Open. The study looked at data on gun assaults in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.
The study also found that Hispanic children were about 26 times more likely to be shot than white children during the pandemic, compared to a relative risk of 8.6 times before the health emergency. And Asian children were about four times more likely to be shot than white children, compared to a relative risk of 1.4 times compared to before the pandemic.
While the rate of shootings among white children has not changed during the pandemic, the health emergency has been linked to a two-fold increase in firearm injuries among children overall. That equates to 503.5 more gunshot wounds than if the pandemic had not happened, the Boston University study authors estimated.
Gunshot injuries increased for years before the pandemic. But in 2020, they have become the number one killer of American children, surpassing car accidents and cancers. The increases continued into 2021, according to the new analysis.
Although the evidence is unclear as to why the pandemic has spurred more gun violence and racial disparity, the authors of the new study speculate that community context plays a role.
“Our findings are broadly consistent with research identifying stronger increases in pandemic-associated violence in neighborhoods with less racial and economic privilege,” the researchers wrote. “Possible explanations include the exacerbation by COVID-19 of inequalities in access to health, employment and educational resources.”
Following the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, last year – which left 21 people dead, including 19 students between the ages of 7 and 10 – medical associations renewed their pleas for common sense and to evidence-based strategies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. in children. These included universal background checks, prohibiting those convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm, licensing laws, restrictions on carrying concealed firearms in public, education to gun safety and restrictions on assault weapons.
“As physicians, our mission is to heal and maintain health. But too often the wounds we see in America today resemble the wounds I saw in war,” said Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association, in a statement at the time. The AMA declared gun violence a public health crisis in 2016.
American Academy of Pediatrics President Moira Szilagyi also pleaded for more to be done to address the public health crisis. “When are we, as a nation, going to stand up for all these children? What will it take, finally, for our leaders in government to do something meaningful to protect them?” she wrote in a statement. “The AAP has called on the federal government to increase funding for gun violence prevention research and common sense laws that protect everyone in a community.”
The authors of the new study also call for efforts to “target structural racism as a fundamental driver of the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.”