When a mass shooting like the one that occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, shakes our collective consciousness, the news cycle convulses with waves of shock, grief, and anger. But the dramatic mass shootings that make national news still represent only a small fraction of gun deaths in America; they are a horrific but relatively rare manifestation of a sprawling, multilayered gun violence crisis. The horrors of Robb Elementary School, Parkland, and Sandy Hook only scratch the surface.
There’s one way that the Uvalde massacre matches with overall trends, though: Increasingly, children are bearing the brunt of the broader crisis. Since 2014, according to a count by the Gun Violence Archive, more than 34,500 children have been killed or injured in shooting incidents. More than 6,500 of them were under the age of 12.
Here are five realities about gun violence in America that show how access to guns is putting us all in peril.
- America’s kids and teens are more likely to be killed by a gun than any other way. For more than 60 years, car crashes were the number one cause of death for people between ages 1 and 24. But since 2017, the top cause has been firearm injuries, according to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the increase in firearm homicides is disproportionately affecting younger people.
- Evidence shows that having a gun in the house makes a family less safe, but gun sales are way up. In a December firearms survey, researchers estimated that between 2019 and 2021, 17 million Americans — including five million children — lived in a home where a gun had recently been acquired.
- It’s easy to legally acquire guns. Federal law bars handgun sales to people under 21, but there’s no federal minimum age for the possession of long guns, including rifles and shotguns. Only six restrict sales of rifles, like those legally purchased by the shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo, New York, to people over 21.
- Far more people survive being shot than not — and victims are often overlooked. Good estimates of gun injuries are hard to find. But the most credible numbers — just over 40,000 injuries last year, according to Gun Violence Archive — provide the general sense of the problem. Survivors often struggle with health problems and economic woes, as we’ve reported in Chicago and beyond.
- Mass shootings represent only a fraction of gun violence deaths. In 2020, 45,222 Americans died by gunfire, while 513 died in shootings with four or more victims. The following year, we saw 13.4 percent more mass shootings, killing 702 people and injuring 2,844. What is often overlooked is that mass shootings disproportionately occur in cities, and more specifically in majority-Black neighborhoods.