Report: Firearms are leading cause of death in Tennessee kids
Tennessee rate of gun death in youth under 17 is 36% higher than national average
A day after the March 27 mass shooting at The Covenant School, a woman is overcome with emotion in front of an impromptu memorial. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Children are dying at higher rates from gun violence in Tennessee than the rest of the nation, an ongoing geographic disparity that has only widened in recent years and one that most gravely impacts the state’s Black families, whose children and teens are being killed by firearms at twice the rate as white kids.
The data tracking child deaths in Tennessee between 2017 and 2021 was released as part of an annual report compiled by the Tennessee Department of Health with the assistance of district attorneys, child welfare advocates, elected officials and other experts who regularly meet in teams to review the deaths of Tennessee kids year-round.
The report this year was released just ahead of a special legislative session called to address public safety after a lone assailant on March 27 fired 152 rounds inside a Nashville Christian school, killing three nine-year-old children and three adults in less than 15 minutes, according to police.
The report focuses on all causes of child deaths among kids 17 and younger, finding that the overall mortality rate from all causes — accidents, suicides, premature births, other medical conditions and murder — in Tennessee is nearly twice the national average.
Gun deaths among kids, however, have increased by significant rates; by 2021, Tennessee’s rates of firearm deaths among children were more than 36% more than the national average.
In 2021, the latest year analyzed, 67 Tennessee children died by homicide. Fifty-three of the victims were Black, a rate four times as high as white children.
“Child health is a critical indicator of a society’s well-being,” the report noted. “The burdens of homicide among Tennessee children is higher among Blacks, males and children aged 15 to 17, with firearms being the leading means of lethality.”
The racial disparity is reversed when it comes to child and teens who died by suicide with white children six times as likely to take their own lives. Suicides accounted for the deaths of 32 white children and five Black children between 2017 and 2021. More than half of all suicide deaths among Tennessee children (54%) were a result of firearms.
The reports does not make specific recommendations, instead noting two “prevention opportunities,” that include promoting safer firearms handling and storage and programs encouraging parental supervision.
The prevention opportunities mirror the current GOP-driven legislative agenda for the special session, set to begin Aug. 21. While advocates for gun safety laws, among them parents of children who attend The Covenant School, have called for stricter background checks and other gun regulations, Gov. Bill Lee has set an agenda that includes unspecified recommendations for firearm staff storage.
The governor’s agenda, set forth in a proclamation also makes mention of protective orders, but other elected GOP leaders have made clear they will not consider any measures that would remove guns from any individuals.2023 CFR Annual Report with Promulgation Statement
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