Campus & Community

Violent death among children clearly linked to home firearms:

3 min read

Children in ‘high-gun’ states at far higher risk of harming selves, others

A new study from the School of Public Health (SPH) has found that in states and regions with higher levels of household firearm ownership, many more children are dying from homicide, suicide, and gun accidents. The differences in rates of violent death to children across states are large. The higher death rates in “high-gun” states are due to differences in deaths from firearms. This elevated rate of violent death to children in high gun states cannot be explained by differences in state levels of poverty, education, or urbanization.

The article “Firearm Availability and Unintentional Firearm Deaths, Suicide, and Homicide among 5-14 Year Olds” is published in the February 2002 issue of The Journal of Trauma (, and a table from the study appears on the journal cover.

Matthew Miller, associate director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at SPH and lead author of the study, said, “In states with more guns, more children are dying. They are dying in suicides, in homicides, and in gun accidents. This finding is completely contrary to the notion that guns are protecting our children.”

This study focused on children aged 5 to 14, and compared data across all 50 states over a 10-year period (1988-97). In one table, the authors compare the five states with the highest gun ownership levels with the five states with the lowest levels. While these states have equal numbers of children, they have very different rates of violent death. In the 10-year period, 253 children died from firearm accidents in the “high-gun” states, compared with 15 in the “low-gun” states. While the numbers of nongun suicides were similar, 153 children killed themselves with guns in the five “high-gun” states, compared with 22 who committed suicide in the five “low-gun” states.

Children in the high-gun states were also at much higher risk of being murdered with a firearm. During this 10-year period, 298 children aged 5 to 14 were murdered with guns in the “high-gun” states, compared with 86 in the “low-gun” states. The nongun homicide rates were fairly similar (a little more than 100 nongun homicides in both sets of states).

Miller emphasized that, while no study that is a snapshot of the United States over a short period of time can prove causation, the strong and robust association between gun ownership and children’s violent death is compelling.

These results are also consistent with international comparisons. The U.S. level of private firearm ownership is much higher than in other developed nations and U.S. children aged 5 to 14 are far more likely to be murdered, commit suicide, and die from gun accidents than children in other developed countries. Indeed, for children aged 5 to 14 in the United States, death from firearms is the third leading cause of mortality, following only motor vehicle crashes and cancer.