In the U.S., enough children to fill a jumbo jet are shot dead every month. Yet for each child killed, just $600 of federal funding will be spent on research into what led to the fatality. In comparison, the equivalent of $26,000 is spent on each child to die in a motor vehicle crash, while $195,500 will be spent on each childhood cancer death.
Firearms are the leading cause of death among high school-age children in America, and they are the second biggest killer of all children between 1 and 18. In total, around 2,500 killed every year, with another 12,000 injured. In 2017, more children were shot dead than active-duty military and on-duty police officers combined.
Understanding the causes of childhood deaths through research an important factor in reducing them—but to carry out this research you need funding.
A team of researchers led by Rebecca Cunningham, interim vice president of research at the University of Michigan, have now analyzed the level of funding provided to different causes of childhood deaths. This included cancer, motor vehicle crashes, meningitis, diabetes and opioid overdoses, among others.
They looked at how many children died from each every year and how much money was given to each cause from various federal research funding sources over a 10-year period. From this, they were able to work out a ‘dollars-per-death’ for each. Findings, published in Health Affairs, showed research into firearms deaths was far lower than almost all other areas of research.
About $1 million was given each to research into firearm-related deaths and injuries. This amounts to $597 per death for the study period, during which 20,719 died.
Over the 10 years analyzed, meningitis killed 400 American children, yet $33.1 million was spent on research—meaning the dollars-per-death amounted to $82,736.
“We expected that the funding for firearm research would be low, but it remains distressing and even shocking to see how little we have invested as a country to keep our children and teens safe, given this is the number one cause of death among high school-age children and the second leading cause of death among all kids and teens after infancy through their 18th birthday,” Cunningham told Newsweek.
She said that as a society, the U.S. needs to learn to live safely with guns, and a public health approach is the best way to do this. Children, she notes, are more likely to drown if they have a pool at home—we accept the risks, but make sure safety measures are in place.
“We know that we could eliminate car crashes if we went back to horse and buggy,” she said. “But that is not an option. Firearms are part of our country’s fabric. We need to get much much better at how we are going to manage firearm safety in this country.
“That will take real federal investment…Silence and putting our heads in the sand, on the other hand, will continue [to mean] a jumbo jet of our children and kids dying by gun every month. We have failed to invest in the science of firearm safety, we are failing our kids in the U.S.”
She said the term ‘gun control’ is inappropriate as “no one wants to be controlled.” Instead, she says using “gun safety” would be more helpful. “The word control sets up a Us vs them Dynamic instead of a common goal of less kids and teens dying by gun, and kids and communities being safer.”
In the study, researchers calculated that the current funding level for research into childhood deaths from firearms is about 30 times lower than it needs to be. In order to help reduce deaths effectively, $37 million per year would be needed.
Cunningham said the reason funding in this area has fallen dates back to the Dickey Amendment, which said that none of the funds given to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for research into injury prevention can be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”
“The funding that existed at the time was ended, the academics involved then were harassed and threatened, and the federal funding agencies concerned over keeping their budget lines looked the other way on the topic for 20 years,” Cunningham said. “Thus there has been little research. Important to note there is no ban on federal research today. There is just little allocated. Our team has rare [National Institutes of Health] funding.”
In order to reduce childhood deaths from firearms, Cunningham believes more public health solutions are needed. She said the problem is complex and multifaceted, and as such requires a multi-pronged response. This should include scientists, social scientists, engineers and urban planners.
“To address car crashes we improved the environment (roads), improved safety behaviors (speeding and drunk driving) and added airbags to make cars safer. We did not get rid of cars,” she said.
“To reduce firearm deaths among kids and teens we can and should to address safety in the home safe storage, reduce access by those who are high risk, and consider design solutions to improve safety devices and storage. It will take all of these things. However this science will not happen without investment in injury prevention science and public health research.
“In 1965 when we had carnage on the roads, no one could yet imagine an airbag. And politicians arguing did not invent airbags. They invested in transportation safety science. We need investment in firearm safety science. It is a science. It is possible.”