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Gun violence, gun suicides leading cause of NC child injury deaths in 2020

Posted September 20, 2021 5:50 p.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2021 7:14 p.m. EDT

— The majority of child injury deaths in North Carolina last year were due to gunfire, officials said on Monday. Child deaths associated with firearms nearly doubled in 2020, officials said.

Nearly 100 children lost their lives to guns, either by accidental gunfire or intentional suicides. Sixty-four child deaths were caused by someone else firing at the child and more than 30 deaths were self-inflicted, new state data shows. Most of the deaths were among teenage boys.

Firearms are used in half of all teenage suicides in North Carolina. The number of children who fell victim to suicide also increased by more than 50% in 2020.

Activists say the way to prevent these deaths is to remove access to firearms from people who are depressed or in a suicidal crisis.

"Removing access to firearms and other lethal means allows time for both the moment of intense suicidal crisis to pass, and for someone to intervene with potentially lifesaving mental health support and resources," the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says.

The majority of children in North Carolina who died by suicide used a gun and were teenage boys. Suicides among white children in 2020 nearly double compared 2019, state data shows.

Across the country, more children are being accidentally killed in shootings as gun ownership has soared. Experts say social isolation, economic struggles and school closures during the coronavirus pandemic has put many more teenagers at an increased risk of gun violence. Hundreds of children witnessed, suffered or died in shootings last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Gun sales surged in America last year and the firearms industry says there was a 60% increase in gun sales from 2019 to 2020. Most of those sales in 2020 took place from March to May. In the first six months of 2021, gun sales increased by 15% from the year before that.

State officials are concerned that new gun owners are unclear on how to safety store their guns. The Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative study commission, is pushing lawmakers to pass a safe storage initiative to help educate gun owners. The North Carolina House of Representatives approved House Bill 42, the Firearm Safe Storage Awareness Initiative, but the Senate has yet to take it up.

Statewide there was a nearly 90% increase in children visiting emergency rooms with firearm injuries. The majority of those children were shot unintentionally, state data shows.

Black Americans are nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white Americans, and are more than 10 times as likely as white people to die in a shooting. Black children made up the majority of North Carolina's firearm deaths, despite making up around 20% of the child population.

"Generations of systemic racial discrimination and inequities in health care, housing, education, and other factors have exacerbated the risks of gun violence. These inequities have also made Black and Latino communities more vulnerable to the devastating effects of COVID-19," according to a report from Everytown Research & Policy.

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