State gun laws and pediatric firearm-related mortality

Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study concluding that “States with laws requiring universal background checks for firearm purchases in effect for ≥ 5 years had lower pediatric firearm-related mortality rates”. The study has a few flaws. Let’s start with the opening sentence of the abstract: “Firearms are the second leading cause of pediatric death in the United States.”

And how do the authors make that claim? By defining as “children” everyone 21 and younger.

For their study, they used data from WISQARS for 2011 to 2015, giving a total of 21,241 firearm-related deaths. Now what happens if you limit the age range to just those under 18 years-old? The total drops by over 68% to 6,658.

Now let’s limit to just homicides. The number drops to 3,640, just 17.1% of the original total.

So why just limit to homicides? There’s no reason to believe universal background check laws or other gun laws would stop teen suicide by firearm or unintentional homicides.

To keep things simple I’ll also use the Brady Campaign’s scorecards for 2013, since I’ve used that in the past when comparing gun laws against various violence statistics. I don’t need to go any more granular to prove my point. And I’ll also be using the CDC WISQARS data for 2011 to 2015 for victims of firearm violence age 17 and lower.

The range for firearm homicide rates among teens and children ranges from 0.29 (Massachusetts) to 2.75 (Louisiana) per 100,000. The median is 0.99 and the average is 1.03. Five of the six States with universal background checks in 2013 had more than 10 homicides. Here is the breakdown of their rates:

  • New York: 0.54
  • Colorado: 0.65
  • California: 1.00
  • Delaware: 1.08
  • Connecticut: 1.1

That New York doesn’t have the lowest firearm homicide rate tells you that universal background checks aren’t the panacea they’re made out to be. Here are some highlights from running the data on States without universal background checks:

  • Under 10 homicides: 9
  • Homicide rate lower than New York: 15
  • Homicide rate lower than California: 28
  • Homicide rate lower than Connecticut: 33

Given that breakdown, it’s clear that universal background check laws can’t even correlate with lower homicide rates, let alone be causal. You won’t get lower firearm homicide rates among youth by passing universal background check laws. There are other factors at play.

And if you’re going to start out a study by including adults in your definition of “children”, then I really need to question the peer reviewers who allowed that study to be published. Since doing such is beyond disingenuous, and the only reason the 18 to 21 age range was included, along with including suicides and unintentional homicides into the mix, is to inflate the numbers.

* * * * *

So just for completeness sake, let’s look at suicides as well.

For 2011 to 2015, age 17 and below, there were 2,494 suicides by firearm. It’s really the only age group where firearm homicides outnumber suicides. The suicide rate per 100,000 ranges from too low to calculate effectively (6 States) to 2.86 (Montana).

Among States with universal background checks, two have a rate too low to effectively calculate: Delaware and Rhode Island. Colorado tops out the other four at 1.31 per 100,000, while California, New York, and Connecticut come in at 0.24, 0.25, and 0.28, respectively.

That is why they included suicides in their tallies and didn’t provide a breakdown. It skews the numbers toward the States with universal background checks.

By not providing this breakdown between suicides and homicides, they make it seem like universal background checks reduce overall firearm death rates, and that isn’t true. While it might help with suicides, it does nothing for homicides as I’ve shown. This is why gun rights advocates continually emphasize breaking homicides out from suicides.

Teen suicide is a problem unto itself. Between 2011 and 2015, 6,291 teens and youth committed suicide, of which about 2 in 5 committed suicide by firearm. Meaning more teens killed themselves by some other means than by firearm. Meaning teens will use some other method if they can’t get ahold of a firearm as the numbers readily show.

But I guess the authors of the above study want to act like laws will somehow curtail that.