Putting aside COVID for a moment, what would your guess be as to the leading cause of death in children in the United States? For a clue, here is some world data.
As you can see, most of the causes are illness, and therefore development, related. But what about the United States, where we have made great strides in protecting our children from these diseases?
If you guessed GUNS, you have the sad consolation of being right. Over 500 children have already died this year from gun-related injuries and in 2020 firearms overtook motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among children in America.
More than 4,500 children died on gun related causes in 2020 and, post-pandemic, we seem to be on target to match that number this year as well. That number, (per year!) is more than the total number of people who died on September 11th 2001, a tragedy on which the United States has spent billions of dollars and remade the world a worse place. Yet, the death of children, our future, only evokes thoughts and prayers among the members of one of the two political parties? I think our inaction after the horrific events of Sandy Hook showed the world that America is a peculiar anomaly when it comes to guns – a significant percentage of the population worships them and their leaders callously indulge that worship to stay in power.
Unfortunately, this is an issue where state-level laws are quite ineffective because of the porosity of state borders. At the federal level, the gridlock in the Senate has prevented any meaningful action on guns so far; even the assault weapons ban has not been renewed. Even though the data is unclear whether the ban significantly reduced gun crime, it speaks to a culture that is a cause of great shame to thinking Americans.
So what can be done?
In the absence of any action by Congress, President Biden is taking some steps to curb the epidemic of gun violence that has a strong focus on community policing.
1. To support state and local law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched five gun-trafficking strike forces and is cracking down on the “Iron Pipeline” – the illegal flow of guns from the south to the rest of the country.
2. The Justice Department has directed every U.S. Attorney’s Office nationwide to increase resources dedicated to district specific violent crime strategies.
3. The American Rescue Plan gives cities and states historic levels of funding that they can use to put more cops on the beat for community policing. Despite accusations that Democrats want to “Defund the Police”, President Biden’s plan includes a $300 million budget request to more than double the size of the Department of Justice’s COPS community policing grant program.
4. The plan includes additional funding to create economic opportunity with job training, expand after-school activities, and provide stable housing and other stabilizing supports necessary to reduce recidivism and help formerly incarcerated individuals reenter their communities.
5. The President has proposed a $5 billion investment in community violence interventions, including a $200 million investment in Fiscal Year 2022.
All this speaks to a realization that smart gun reform has to be coupled with training for police to have a community-based approach to policing, and creating economic opportunities that address systemic inequalities. It’s not a quick fix, but these sensible ideas are the first steps to turning the tide of gun violence, especially among the most helpless of us. Ultimately, our goal should be to reduce guns in households, but this can only come from greater trust in our defenders, and an economy that works for everyone, not just the rich.
Image of world data from https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality
Image of US data from the New England Journal of Medicine.