The Texas massacre once again highlights the fact that the number of gun deaths in the United States runs into the thousands every year. More children and young people are now killed by guns than by car accidents.

Firearms have replaced car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States. According to official data from the health authority CDC from 2020, a total of 4368 children and adolescents up to the age of 19 died from firearms. In comparison, there were 4,036 motor vehicle-related deaths – the leading cause of death in this age group to date.

The number of children and young people killed by firearms corresponds to a rate of 5.4 per 100,000. Almost two-thirds of these deaths were homicides. The fact that deaths were replaced by vehicles at the top is probably also due to the fact that road safety measures have improved over the decades. Meanwhile, gun laws have been relaxed. The trend lines cross in 2020 – more recent data are not yet available.

The numbers were published last week in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. Just this week, 19 children were killed in a school massacre in Texas.

The authors of the letter to the journal noted that the new data is consistent with other evidence that gun violence has increased during the coronavirus pandemic for unclear reasons. However, “it cannot be assumed that it will later return to the level before the pandemic”.

Most gun-related deaths are suicides. School shootings, such as in Uvalde, Texas, account for only a small proportion of childhood gun deaths. Boys were six times more likely to die from a gun than girls.

The deaths disproportionately affect black children and youth, who are more than four times as likely to die as white children. For these, vehicles still pose a greater threat. By region, the death rate from guns was highest in the capital, Washington, followed by the state of Louisiana and Alaska.

Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of leading science journal Science, wrote in an editorial calling for more research into the public health impact of gun ownership in order to bring about policy change. “Scientists should not stand idly by while others fight this matter out,” he wrote.

“More research into the public health impact of gun ownership will provide further evidence of the deadly consequences,” he continued. Thorp argued that serious mental illness, which is often blamed for gun attacks in the United States, is similarly prevalent in other countries where shooting sprees are not a regular occurrence.