Guns and Youth - Children Injured And Killed By Gunfire

pellet injuries related deaths

The number of children whose lives have been lost to gun violence is calculated annually by The Children's Defense Fund. The fund is a charitable organization whose particular focus is the needs of poor and minority children and those with disabilities. Each year the fund ranks the states according to how they measure up in terms of children's health. In addition to death by gun violence, the report measures factors such as insurance coverage, lowbirthweight babies, prenatal care, infant mortality, and immunizations.

The Children's Defense Fund's most recent data (published in 2004; "Protect Children Instead of Guns 2004") show that gunfire killed 2,911 American children and teens in 2001, which equals "one child every three hours, eight children every day, and more than fifty children every week" for that year. In fact, more children and teenagers were killed by gunfire than from cancer, pneumonia, and influenza combined. Youths in the United States have a one in 1,339 chance of being killed by gunfire before the age of twenty. They are also sixteen times more likely to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to be accidentally killed by a gun than children in other industrialized countries.

BB Guns Can Injure and Kill

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports an average of four deaths per year caused by BB guns or pellet rifles ("BB Guns Can Kill," October 2004). The deaths and injuries from what many people call "toy guns" are almost always preventable. An estimated 3.2 million of these guns are sold each year. The type that has been around the longest is the spring-loaded model, which uses a spring action to propel the pellets. However, technologically advanced models have also been on the market for years. One type is an air gun (also called an air rifle or pump gun), which uses compressed air. Another type uses carbon dioxide cartridges to propel ammunition.

Many people assume that these guns shoot at harmlessly low velocities and are suitable for children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the power of some of these guns should not be underestimated and that children with "toy" guns should never be left unsupervised. At close range, some models are


Number of BB or pellet gun related injuries and firearm related injuries and deaths, and rates for persons aged 19 years and younger, by selected characteristics, 1993–99
Non-fatal BB/pellet gun related injuries1 Non-fatal firearm related injuries1 Firearm related deaths
Characteristics Number Mean annual number Number Mean annual number Number Mean annual number
1National estimates of non-fatal gunshot injuries treated in hospital emergency departments.
2There were six cases of unknown sex for BB/pellet gun related injuries.
3Excludes black Hispanic.
4Includes non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native, and unknown race.
SOURCE: Adapted from M. H. Nguyen, J. L. Annest, J. A. Mercy, G. W. Ryan and L. A. Fingerhut, "Table 1. Number of BB/Pellet Gun Related Injuries and Firearm Related Injuries and Deaths, and Rates per 100,000 Population for Persons Aged 19 Years and Younger, by Selected Characteristics of the Injured Person, United States, 1993–99", in Injury Prevention, vol. 185, 2002, 185-91 October 9, 2004). With permission from the BMJ Publishing Group.
Age (in years)
0–9 26,351 3,764 4,529 647 1,387 198
10–14 64,364 9,195 16,690 2,384 3,719 531
15–19 31,353 4,479 121,980 17,426 27,806 3,972
Males 105,825 15,118 126,367 18,052 28,392 4,056
Females 16,243 2,320 16,832 2,405 4,520 646
White, non-Hispanic 70,474 10,068 27,228 3,890 11,920 1,703
Black 19,614 2,802 73,348 10,478 13,787 1,970
Hispanic3 5,450 779 27,548 3,935 5,770 824
All other races/unknown4 26,530 3,790 15,076 2,154 1,435 205
Total 122,068 17,438 143,199 20,457 32,912 4,702

capable of shooting pellets at velocities comparable to pistols. A special study from the CDC titled "BB and Pellet Gun-Related Injuries" (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 44, no. 49, December 15, 1995) revealed that between June 1992 and May 1994 the CDC received the following reports:

  • A nine-year-old boy was struck by a BB beneath his lower left eyelid after he stepped from behind a board at which other children were shooting.
  • A sixteen-year-old sustained a severe mid-brain injury from a self-inflicted combination BB/pellet gunshot wound through the roof of his mouth.
  • A nine-year-old incurred a pellet injury to the back of her right ankle after a boy fired a pellet at her from a passing car.
  • A ten-year-old sustained injuries to his neck and trachea after being struck by a BB from a gun that had been fired unintentionally.
  • A thirteen-year-old was shot in the neck with a BB gun when a friend pulled the trigger, believing the gun was not loaded.
  • A sixteen-year-old boy sustained a penetrating injury to his right eye after being struck by a BB that ricocheted from a gun fired by a friend.

During the same period, it was estimated that more than 47,000 children and teenagers were treated for BB or pellet gunshot wounds in hospital emergency rooms. Most were boys (86.1%), children between the ages of ten and fourteen (51.8%), and teens between the ages of fifteen and nineteen (29%). Most wounds were unintentional (65.7%), self-inflicted (31%), and in a home (45.4%). Some pellet or BB wounds were the result of an assault (10.4%) or suicide attempt (0.1%).

A study published in 2002 showed that BB/pellet and firearm-related injury rates both declined for children since the early 1990s. (See Table 7.8.) The authors contended that an estimated 3.2 million BB or pellet guns are sold each year and resulted in an estimated 23,500 injuries to kids nineteen or younger in the early 1990s. Table 7.8 breaks down the information by sex, race, and gender. The study attributes the decline in BB and pellet gun injuries with "the growing number of prevention efforts aimed at reducing injuries to children from unsupervised access to guns and from youth violence." Figure 7.11 shows the number of BB or pellet gun related deaths from 1985 to 1999.

In December 2002 the Baltimore city council voted to ban ownership of BB guns by anyone under the age of eighteen. City officials were concerned that most of the popular BB guns resembled semiautomatic weapons, making it hard for police to distinguish between them and real guns. Baltimore police said children were using the guns to terrorize squirrels, and some Baltimore residents were using the weapons to intimidate people.

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