Increasing Rate of Unintentional Firearm Deaths in Youngest Americans: Firearm Prevalence and Covid-19 Pandemic Implication

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Increasing Rate of Unintentional Firearm Deaths in Youngest Americans: Firearm Prevalence and Covid-19 Pandemic Implication

Category: Unintentional, Youth|Journal: Journal of the National Medical Association (full text)|Author: A Bleyer, C Thomas Jr., S Siegel|Year: 2021


The United States has had, by far, the world’s greatest civilian ownership of firearms. An even greater ownership occurred during the Covd-19 pandemic, mostly of handguns and including many new owners. The U.S. has also had the least progress of the 41 highest sociodemographic countries ranked by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in reducing the unintentional firearm mortality rate in young children. This study characterized the unintentional firearm mortality trends in American 1-4 year-olds by sex and race/ethnicity and evaluated the trends in the context of firearm prevalence in the U.S.


Mortality data for 1999–2018 were obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, firearm injury and mortality data for 2016–2020 from Everytown for Gun Safety #NotAnAccident database, firearm background check data for 1999–2020 from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and civilian firearm prevalence for 2017 from the Small Arms Survey.


In American 1-4 year-olds, the rate of unintentional firearm deaths during 1999–2018 increased exponentially at an average annual percent rate of 4.9 (p < 0.001) and was greatest in non-Hispanic black children. Unintentional firearm deaths had the most rapid increase of all evaluable causes of death in the age group. The unintentional firearm death rate increase was correlated with the concurrent rate of firearm background checks and handgun permits issued (each p < 0.001) and in non-Hispanic white children with handgun prevalence in their families (p = 0.03). Globally, the unintentional firearm death rate was also correlated with firearm prevalence (p = 0.02).


An increase in fatal firearm accidents in the United States death rate among 1-4 year-olds is directly associated with the steadily increasing prevalence of firearms. The acceleration of firearm deaths and injuries among young Americans, especially among non-Hispanic black children, requires urgent solutions to address firearm prevalence and access. The problem is expected to become even more urgent as a result of the record high firearm sales that occurred in the United States during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.