The short answer is not really unless you tweak the numbers for both gun violence and car accidents. This is something I wrote about last April. It has become commonplace for the White House and left wing commentators to claim that gun violence is the number one cause of death for children. But as I said at the time, many of the statistics being relied upon include adult teens who are not by definition children.
A couple points about this. First, if you hear people citing it, they’ll often claim, incorrectly, that it shows guns are a leading cause of death among children. But the headline of the letter points out the problem: “Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States.”…
So anyone citing this really ought to say the results are about “children and adolescents” not just “children.” But frequently that doesn’t happen…
Today, the Post’s Glenn Kessler points to the same problem with how the White House has been using these broad claims about “children.”
The Biden White House, in various venues, has made that claim. But the source cited in the White House news release — a 2022 study by the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University — reports data with a broader focus. It cites gun deaths of “children and teens,” meaning it includes deaths of 18- and 19-year-olds, who are legally considered adults in most states.
When you focus only on children — 17 and younger — motor vehicle deaths (broadly defined) still rank No. 1, as they have for six decades, though the gap is rapidly closing. Indeed, deaths of children from gun violence have increased about 50 percent from 2019 to 2021, the CDC data shows. During the coronavirus pandemic, there was a surge in firearm sales and an increase in the use of firearms in deaths by suicide — especially among children in rural areas.
Deaths from gun violence have increased substantially since 2019 in part because violent crime overall increased dramatically starting in mid-2020. Kessler implies there is a connection between increased gun sales during the pandemic and gun violence (specifically suicides) but the evidence I’ve seen doesn’t back up the claim that increased gun sales caused increased crime. Instead it appears the crime was connected to some version of the Ferguson Effect, i.e. police backed off after the murder of George Floyd and crime rose in many cities around the country for the following two years in a row. It’s likely that the increase in gun violence being measured by these studies is connected to that increase in crime.
There is also another way to tweak the numbers so that gun violence comes out on top of car accidents.
The CDC lists both deaths just from traffic-related crashes and an overall motor vehicle category that would include pedestrian and other deaths, such as death while in a stationary car. Using only traffic-related crashes further reduces the motor vehicle number by as much as 11 percent, depending on the year. The New England Journal of Medicine article uses the broader definition, but Johns Hopkins reports rely just on traffic crashes…
By including 18- and 19-year-olds, excluding infants under age 1 and comparing firearm deaths with only vehicle crashes, Johns Hopkins reports that in 2021, there were 4,733 firearm deaths of “children and teens” compared with 4,048 deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
But by counting only children 17 and under, including infants under the age of 1, and comparing with all motor vehicle deaths, the CDC data shows that in 2021, there were 2,590 firearm deaths of children, compared with 2,687 motor vehicle deaths.
To summarize, you can get the talking point the White House seems to prefer by a) including adults as “children” and failing to mention that and b) leaving out people killed in car accidents beyond traffic crashes.
Ultimately, Kessler doesn’t give this misleading claim a rating but he does say, “it would be better for White House officials to refer to children and teens when citing these reports.” Yes it would. It would also be nice if fact-checkers and reporters would point out how carefully massaged the data behind these claims are when the claims are made instead of waiting most of a year to explain it. Here’s White House Press Secretary making this claim last March. “Guns as we know is the leading cause killing our kids,” she said.
Karine Jean-Pierre, “Guns as we know is the leading cause killing our kids, and they (Republicans) refuse to show some courage and do anything about it, and that’s shameful.” pic.twitter.com/o5KRRE4tgs
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) March 29, 2023