Gun violence now ranks as the second-leading cause of death among young Americans, but with the leading cause — car accidents — on the decline and gun violence holding steady, guns will kill more Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 than traffic mishaps by the time next year is out.
That shocking conclusion comes from a new study from the Washington-based think tank, Center For American Progress which issued a report, Young Guns: How Gun Violence Is Devastating The Millennial Generation, on Friday.
Despite a dramatic drop in the overall crime rate nationwide, gun violence deaths among young people — while down from the early 1990s — have held steady for more than a decade. The CAP report includes the following chart, illustrating the projected crossing of the downward trend in traffic fatalities and the consistent number of gun violence deaths among young Americans:
While the toll gun violence takes on America’s younger generations has been a serious concern for several decades, the issue has exploded back into the public mind recently, thanks to such incidents at the shooting death of Florida teenager Jordan Davis at the hands of Michael Dunn, a 46-year-old man who complained that Davis was playing music too loud.
But stories of guns killing kids surface so regularly these days that they barely make a blip on the media radar screen. Take for example, just this past December, Kiana O’Neil, a teenage girl in Colorado shot dead by her stepfather who somehow mistook her for a burglar.
Or earlier in the same month, 16-year-old Aubrey Peters who was once decorated as a heroine for helping rescue to drowning children, only to be shot dead by a friend who jokingly pointed a supposedly empty gun at her and pulled the trigger.
Those stories and dozens like them come and go on a regular basis, quickly forgotten in an era when, according to the CAP study, 33,000 Americans are killed by gun violence every year and according to 2010 statistics, 54 percent were younger than 30.
In fact, according to the report, an American under the age of 25 is killed by a gunshot every 70 minutes, on average. In 2012, 25 percent of all gun violence fatalities were people under 25, a total of 6,201 young people dead as a result of gun violence.
Compare that to the rather unsurprising statistic that of the 2.5 million Americans who die every year from all causes, only three percent are under 25 — unsurprising because young people generally do not die of the same medical causes, such as heart disease or cancer, that kill older Americans.
They do, however tend to die in car accidents, but at a rate that has been going down every year, thanks to what the CAP calls “billions of dollars spent on public health and safety research” which has resulted in safer vehicles, roads an a greater consciousness of safety on the part of drivers.
But there is no such impressive sum of cash spent to reduce gun violence. In fact, from 1996 to 2013, the federal government froze all funding for research into gun violence.
President Barack Obama lifted that freeze in the wake of the Sandy Hook schoolhouse massacre in 2012, but the lack of funding for nearly two decades meant that there were very few researchers who specialized in studying gun violence to take advantage of the new funding.
There have been some new gun violence studies conducted recently, however. For example, one recent research project found that since the 2007 repeal of a Missouri law requiring local sheriffs to vet prospective gun buyers, the state has suffered an additional 60 gun violence deaths per year.