Gun violence is killing an increasing number of children and teenagers across America, leaving behind shattered dreams and devastated families.
Experts say idleness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic shares the blame with easy access to guns and disputes that too often end with gunfire. Statistics compiled by the Gun Violence Archive show youth homicides rose sharply from 2019 to 2020, and that this year is shaping up to be even worse. Through Monday, shootings claimed 1,179 young lives and left 3,292 youths injured.
A March report from the Children’s Defense Fund found that child and teen shooting deaths reached a 19-year high in 2017 and have remained elevated. Black children and teenagers were four times more likely than whites to be fatally shot.
The fund’s president and CEO, the Rev. Starsky Wilson, said a spike in gun sales during the pandemic has made things worse.
“There are more guns available on the street and there are folks with less opportunity to engage in productive activity,” Wilson said. “A combination of those two is really challenging.”
While small children are often caught in the crossfire, teenagers are most commonly targeted — often by other teenagers — in drive-by shootings on interstate highways or gunned down in broad daylight on urban streets.
Efforts and ideas to slow the violence are varied.
Wilson, of the Children’s Defense Fund, suggested a threefold strategy: Adopt new gun legislation to strengthen background checks and incentivize safe storage of weapons; invest in social services such as after-school programs and mental health support for young people; and create more economic opportunity, including summer jobs.