Press Releases

2002 Releases

Violent Death Among Children Linked to Household Firearms

For immediate release:  February 19, 2002 

Boston, MA-- A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) 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" (PDF) is published in the February, 2002 issue of The Journal of Trauma (www.jtrauma.com ) and a table from the study appears on the journal cover.

Matthew Miller, M.D., ScD, associate director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at HSPH 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.”

“The differences in violent death rates to children are large, and are closely tied to levels of gun ownership,” he said. “The differences cannot be explained by poverty, education or urbanization.”

This study focused on children aged 5 to14, and compared data across all 50 states over a 10-year period (1988-1997). 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 to 15 in the low gun states. While the numbers of non-gun suicides were similar, 153 children killed themselves with guns in the five high gun states, compared to 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 to 86 in the low gun states. The non-gun homicide rates were fairly similar (a little over 100 non-gun homicides in both sets of states).

Miller emphasized that, while no study that is a snapshot of the U.S. 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 to14 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.

The study was supported in part by the Joyce Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Director of Communications
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu