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Gun Violence is an Adolescent Health Issue

As an organization dedicated to the health and wellbeing of adolescents, we are compelled to speak out against the number one killer of youth in the U.S.: guns.

Firearms are now the leading cause of death for young people in this country, surpassing car accidents and illness. Between 2019 and 2020, firearm-related deaths (from homicides, suicides, and accidents) increased 29.5% for those under 19 years old—more than twice the increase in gun deaths in the rest of the U.S. population. Guns were used in 44 percent of suicides among 14- to 18-year-olds between 2014 to 2020.

The burden of gun violence is not shared equally. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be exposed to gun violence than White adolescents. Poor adolescents are more likely to be exposed than middle-to-high income adolescents.

Even apart from the risk of death and injury, gun violence extracts a steep toll on adolescent wellbeing. Exposure to gun violence impacts youth mental health outcomes, increasing suicide, depression, substance use, and anxiety. Active shooter drills in high schools significantly increase fear and perception of risk at exactly the ages when youth need to explore their worlds in order to acquire the skills and confidence they will need to thrive as adults.

Research is clear that laws that reduce the accessibility of guns decrease youth deaths by guns, particularly deaths by suicide or accident.

Research into adolescent health and wellbeing offers so many ways we can better support our young people: providing guidance and support, access to high-quality academic and enrichment opportunities, spaces of belonging, and avenues to make meaningful contributions.

And we have to do everything we can as a society to stop preventable deaths from gun violence.

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