Criminal Justice

Toddlers to teens are dying every day from guns, new national study shows

For every U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan during 11 years of war, at least 13 children were shot and killed in America.

More than 450 of the children who died were younger than kindergarten age.

Another 2,700 or more were killed by a firearm before they could sit behind the wheel of a car.

Every day, on average, seven children were shot dead — with Louisiana second only to Alaska in the per capita rate of gun deaths among young people. The state has the highest rate of gun homicides among young people.

A News21 investigation of child and youth deaths in America between 2002 and 2012 found that at least 28,000 children and teens 19-years-old and younger were killed with guns. Teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 made up over two-thirds of all youth gun deaths in America.

The News21 findings are compiled in the most complete database to date from records obtained from 49 state health departments and FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports.

“It’s an unacceptable number and it should be regardless of where you stand on gun-owning ideology,” said Colette Martin, a member of Parents Against Gun Violence. “The numbers are that high and we are as a country ignoring them.”

Most of the young people killed by firearms — 62 percent — were victims of homicide, and the majority were black children and teens. One in four of the firearm deaths of young people were suicides, the majority of them white children. More than 1,100 children and teens were killed by a gun that accidentally discharged.

An Epidemic of Violence

Zeke Cohen, executive director of The Intersection, a Baltimore youth advocacy group, said the dialogue on guns only seems to pierce the national consciousness when it’s a mass shooting in an affluent white suburban community, such as the one where he grew up.

The American gun debate, he said, rarely takes into account the number of black youth who are murdered every day.

“We as a country tolerate violence when it is in low-income black communities,” Cohen said. “Because we’ve come to accept that the acceptable face of gun deaths is black, we allow it to continue to happen.”

Dawnya Johnson was 11 years old when her already broken life was shattered further. Her mother was addicted to drugs, her father was in prison, and she was tossed from foster home to foster home. She found solace in an older cousin, but that protection was left on a bloody sidewalk. Johnson’s cousin was shot six times in the back and he bled to death before the ambulance got to the scene. He was 17.

“He had taken on the role of two people who were unable to take care of me at that time,” Johnson said. “This beam of support had been ripped from under me.”

Her cousin had lost his job and started selling drugs to make ends meet. When Johnson’s foster families wouldn’t give her food or buy her clothes, he always found a way to get her what she needed.

“My cousin made sure that I had the basic stuff and that I had Nikes and looked fresh every day,” Johnson said. “No kid would ever know if we were homeless or I was hungry walking in the door.”

Dawnya Johnson speaks to a youth group.

Courtesy of Dawnya Johnson

Dawnya Johnson speaks to a youth group.

A young black girl growing up on her own in inner-city Baltimore, in a state with one of the highest percentage of black youth gun deaths in the nation, she said she doesn’t live in fear.

“I’ve become desensitized to fear,” said Johnson, an active member and student leader of The Intersection. “Once something happens so many times and it repeats itself it becomes something that you don’t fear.”

Jennifer Rauhouse, executive director of Peer Solutions, an Arizona-based organization that looks to prevent violence from occurring, said gun violence was a manifestation of other issues, such as child abuse, sexual abuse and bullying.

“If we don’t get to the heart of the question of gun violence, we’re doomed,” said Rauhouse, who founded the organization.

It’s not enough to react after a shooting, she said. Steps have to be taken to prevent that sort of violence from occurring in the first place.

Eli Chevalier, a high school senior and member of Peer Solutions, said the group works to prevent violence by teaching middle- and high-school students that respect and equality are the norm, not violence

“People won’t turn to drugs and violence if they have respect and equality in their lives and in their relationships,” Chevalier said.

Cohen started The Intersection, a Baltimore youth advocacy group, after he was held at gunpoint in his Maryland apartment and realized how many kids live with gun violence in their neighborhoods.

“For my students, it’s having hope and feeling like they are playing a constructive role in bettering their communities,” Cohen said. “One of the challenges when you’re dealing with communities is that the victims of the gun violence often have a feeling of disenfranchisement.”

Like Johnson, all of the students at The Intersection have been affected by gun violence. They’ve lost family or friends, been shot at or caught in shootouts.

“Our students are attempting to change that narrative and dismantle the amount of violence in our city,” Cohen said.

The state of Maryland had one of the highest percentages of black youth gun deaths from 2002 to 2012. In 11 years, more than 600 were shot and killed in their homes or on the street.

“Kids are getting killed, but the reality is America has played such a role in shaping these communities, there is a responsibility that we have to solve this problem,” Cohen said.

The conversation can’t be just about guns, it’s more about racism and poverty, he said.

“There is too much access. It’s easier for a child to buy a firearm in Baltimore than it is to buy a pack of cigarettes,” Cohen said. “The less guns that are available, the less gun deaths we are going to have, but that doesn’t solve the problem.”

“This is not a Maryland problem, this is an American problem.”

One gun, one moment

By contrast with black youth, the majority of gun deaths among white youth were suicides, an average of 644 a year.

“A gun doesn’t cause the suicidality, but a suicidal person with access to a gun is far more likely to die from an attempt than someone using another method,” said Elaine Frank, the director of Counseling on Access to Lethal Means. “It’s the combination of accessibility, familiarity, lethality and really short time frame that’s offered by a firearm.”

In New Hampshire, where CALM is based, more than 95 percent of all young people killed by guns were white youths and 70 percent of them committed suicide, News21 found.

As a former program director of the injury prevention center at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth College, Frank helped New Hampshire develop a state plan on suicide prevention, which led to formation of a suicide prevention council.

According to Frank, it’s not the gun laws that are going to prevent suicide — it has to be more of a family, community and cultural change.

“We are not anti-gun, we aren’t saying that gun use is a problem or gun ownership is a problem,” Frank said. “What we are opposed to is gun misuse.”

New Hampshire remains fairly rural, and children grow up with guns and are taught gun safety. They are familiar with firearms and most teenagers know where the guns are kept.

“If someone is suicidal and if they have easy access to highly lethal means, specifically firearms, it greatly increases the risk that if they do make an attempt it will be a lethal attempt,” Frank said.

In Vermont, another rural New England state, 73 percent of its youth gun deaths are suicides.

“Particularly in young people, the time of risk is often very short,” Frank said. “The time from making the decision to make an attempt, to actually making an attempt can be very, very short. There’s not enough time to say I don’t want to do this.”

Unintentional bullets just as destructive

Accidents involving guns are the third-largest cause of firearm deaths for youths, after homicide and suicide. More than 1,100 young people have been killed by a gun that accidentally discharged, the News21 analysis showed.

James Parker was 12 years old when he was accidentally shot and killed by a family member. He was hunting with his dad, uncle and step brother in Wake Forest, N.C., when a shotgun blast took his life.

Sincere Smith, lower right, was 2 when he died.


Sincere Smith, lower right, was 2 when he died.

Sincere Tymere Smith was 2 when he fatally shot himself with his father’s gun on Christmas in Conway, S.C. His father, who bought the gun following a break-in, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after the toddler pulled the gun off a table and shot himself in the chest.

Ryder Rozier was 3 when he stumbled across a gun in his uncle’s bedroom and shot himself in the head in Guthrie, Okla. The gun belonged to his uncle, a state trooper.
Neegnco Xiong, of Minneapolis, was 2 when he was shot by his 4-year-old brother, who found a gun under their father’s pillow.  The gun did not have a safety on it. The father was charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangerment of a child.

William Rees was 14 when he shot himself at his grandparent’s house in Fremont County, Idaho. He was shooting targets when his pistol went off and pierced his abdomen.

Neegnco Xiong was 2.


Neegnco Xiong was 2.

All were killed in 2012.

“Any gun that ends up in the hands of a child is first passed through the hands of an adult,” said Colette Martin, a member of Parents Against Gun Violence. “We have a lot of responsibility and accountability when it comes to legal gun owners who allow children to access their guns unsupervised.”

Teens between 15 and 19 were the most likely to be killed by the unintentional pull of a trigger, accounting for half of such deaths.

“These are the cases that keep me up at night because they are 100 percent preventable,” said Martin, a gun owner and stay-at-home mom, “and I will not be swayed from that belief.”

America’s Kids

Whether homicide, suicide or accident, every four hours a child’s life was taken by a bullet during the 11-year period from 2002 to 2012. That’s the equivalent of the Sandy Hook massacre every three days.

More than 19,000 high school-aged students never got to walk across the stage and get a diploma.

“No gun law is going to change anything at this point,” Rauhouse said. “We make it about the guns and we’re not worried about our kids. People should be focusing on why gun violence exists and trying to prevent it from occurring.”

Other gun-control activists argue that gun-storage laws need to be implemented.

“Gun-storage laws with teeth behind them would stop some of the gun deaths that happen in homes,” said Martin, of Parents Against Gun Violence. “It’s a really important piece of federal law that’s missing. Responsible gun owners do it already, it’s not an infringement of a Second Amendment right.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia currently have laws to restrict access to guns by children, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. These laws impose criminal liability on adults who do not properly store their guns when children are in the house.

“The gun lobby is very powerful. Elected officials are out of step with what the general public wants,” said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety. “Americans are not serious about protecting youths and preventing gun violence.”

This report is part of the project titled “Gun Wars: The Struggle Over Rights and Regulation in America,” produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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  • nickelndime

    I will not walk around Texas with a visible gun, but I sure as hell believe that it is our Constitutional right to own and bear “arms.” Citizens of the United States are being herded, tracked, and tagged -especially when some catastrope or disaster hits – and if we do not have access to guns and ammunition, then others who are put in positions of authority will – have guns. I am particularly concerned with the current behavior of the police in New Orleans, and the recent retirement of the police chief is not going to fix the problems in the NOPD. In fact, I doubt that Jesus H. Christ could stop this graft and corruption. “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” It’s on you – I have already had enough of big and little government trying to tell me what to do. Ha!

  • mickey_meador

    The dark blue bars reveal where the most gun homicides are. You could predict it: CA, IL MD, PA, & LA. These are the states with the highest murder rate cities: Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia & New Orleans.
    Not mere coincidence that these are also the cities with the most gang/drug, street thugs, low life govt. dependent classes who are not prosecuted because of their race. These cities are by no coincidence also the cities long run by Liberal Democrats. To attempt to connect these homicide rates with weapons is absurd. If no weapons of any type were available the rates would be comparable to these.

  • RecceGuru

    “A News21 investigation of child and youth deaths in America between 2002
    and 2012 found that at least 28,000 children and teens 19-years-old and
    younger were killed with guns. Teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19
    made up over two-thirds of all youth gun deaths in America.”

    Gang members mostly. This article wants you to think tones of innocent kids are dying from gunshots. Teenagers are not “kids” We trust 16 year olds to pilot tons of steel at high speed down our roads. 17 year olds can join the miltary woith parental connt, and tote a “real” assualt rifle for UNcle Sam in foriegn lands. 18 and 19 year olds are adults.

    THis study is bogus and intentionally misleading. If you look at actual “kids” 0-14 years old, barely any are killed by gunshots.

    More kids drown in backyard pools. How bout we find a real epidemic, like the genocide of blacks via abortion?

  • TexTopCat

    First of all you need to divide the numbers by 10, since the numbers are not per year but for the entire 10 year period.
    Second, suicide is independent of the method or tools used, so suicide numbers need to be removed.
    Third, Homicide numbers would likely be the same if no one owned a gun, since if an adult wants to kill a child, there are lots of ways to accomplish such things.
    So, what is left, unintentional deaths. So, what needs to be done?
    Well for school age children we need to make sure that gun education is part of every grade level
    Also, we need to get more adults into NRA classes so that the safe handling, part of which is to limit access to guns by untrained people/children.

    So, have you joined the NRA and given to their education effort?

  • James Jones

    The total number of fatal firearms accidents was 587. Breaking that down: from media reports, 286 of those were outdoors activity/hunting related; leaving 301 firearms accidents; including 5 police officers killed in gun accidents.

    However, that still leaves us with 587 accidental firearms deaths.

    Turning to self defense shootings, combining the health care system statistics with the data from the FBI Uniform Crime Report suggests there were just over 1,600 self defense homicides during 2011.

    In round numbers, there were 5.3 times as many self defense homicides as non-outdoors activity related accidental gun deaths. Put another way, a family member is 5.3 times as likely to shoot a criminal to death as another family member or invited guest.

    But of course, that is not all of the story. Prison surveys suggest the possible presence of a gun avert more than ten million serious crimes a year. Hitler used the ploy “its for the children” to disarm and enslave a nation and perpetrate democide on millions!! There were no Jews with rifles in the gas chambers! All progressives are collectivist and totalitarians. Never give up your guns America

  • Sparafucile

    Do you mean that Japan’s suicide epidemic isn’t due to their lax gun laws?

  • “Teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19” We don’t have a gun problem. We have a gang problem. Get serious with gang issues and maybe you will save some of them. Again, not a gun issue. A Gang issue.

  • Bitch is bitch, but guns is guns and statics won’t cure YZV (Yuggie Zombie Virus) aka:”Yugz” sickness.
    It’s damn scary!!! when Yugz go feral and are blind to women and children they will hit when they fire their stolen gun at a fellow Zombie- New Orleans quarantine policy has only treated symptoms, and not found a cure, a vaccine, or even slowed it’s spread to other communities, as it’s caused by poverty, ignorance, and those who profit in keeping it that way-
    So I hereby protest Protests- and advocate we point less at bar graphs- and more at Libraries and other cures.
    Best from Freret st.
    Andy Brott

  • nickelndime

    Our government (all levels) makes money off of poverty. It’s a business. BIG BUSINESS! Why would public officials (from top to bottom) want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Poverty pervades every aspect of functioning in our country. It is in medicine, education, law/criminal justice system, politics, codes, policies, housing, employment – you name it – it is built into our infrastructure – and our government wants to make sure it stays there. We have become a statistic. It’s our own fault. If we happen to live in Bywater or Marigny, rather than the Vieux Carre or the Garden District, we are more likely to die prematurely – for whatever reason, and we probably will. And we are more likely to live, see, and shop among poor people. NOPD and public officials do not like the homeless for many reasons – and not just because some tourists may see them on their way to the Superdome. The homeless defy tracking. They have fallen through the cracks and they fight to stay there. This is a fine mess that we have allowed to happen to ourselves. While we have been working and reading and going to those damn libraries, we handed away our rights and our freedom to others, trying hard to convice ourselves that our elected and appointed government officials are acting in our best interests. They are not! The homeless already figured it out. We are the real “poor,” not them.

  • Here here!!!
    I tap my cane loudly and say good god YES!!! Unfortunately I’m plagued with extreme optimism, so even when NOLA is a walled Island in 50 years, it still will be one of “misfit toys”- filled with morons like me with loud mouths that don’t mix well with American Idol and Fakebook commuters. + what I love about it- is I can’t explain why I do i.e.- “Keep Austin weird” if you have to that, good chance your neighbors demanded, but ask nicley “bro” for u come next door for a Micheal Brown Ferguson Mi. candle lighting- WITHOUT PLASTIC BAGS!!!! Cheer-up Mr. Mrs. or Ms- Dime!!!! Yes we suck, but were not “weird”…
    So lets eat the elephant one bite at at time- I’ve had good nutria dishes- lets cook that donkey and find middle ground solutions. At 9 years post- K: my optimism is high with Jane Jacobs logic and see solutions.
    Yes poverty is “BIG BUSINESS”, but you left out how we all feed it- and let poverty pimps and others keep their power with subjective logic, and us not pounding for objective solutions. Teens and gun violence? Poverty + promoted social stratification + no hope = gun violence.
    LIBRARIES are one solution!!!! but not just as bricks and buildings, but as fiber optic cable and internet bandwidth-
    Please go here:
    see how slow and crappy we are?…
    Then go here-
    This is our digital Library, lets use it, but not just to read/listen to books, but to rally behind and demand it gets fiber optic internet. ATT? COX? Somebody else? Our libraries and us demand it!!! Then….
    Faster internet recruits us a middle class of misfits that Skypes to work, mentors our at risk kids, lowers our gun violence, and Hippy Bar Graph Stats.
    + NOPD also uses this fiber for high-rez crime cameras that are 1/10th the cost over time than Naginomics wireless Meffert farts were.
    Sorry for the ramble, as I do respect/agree with u enough to post- and want u to cheer up with the 29th upon us…
    Best from Freret,
    Andy Brott

  • nickelndime

    Hear! Hear! Andy Brott. I am just an ole generic nickelndime, a voice crying in the wilderness. What do I know? Soon, I will be gone, and if given another chance to return, I shall say, “No.” But not for the reasons you would expect. I shall say no because I do not think I will ever be this lucky again. BTW, I usually enjoy your ramblings, Andy Brott. Please continue. Thanks!

  • nickelndime

    Austin is not THAT weird, but look where I come from, 4gawdsake!!! HAHAHAHA