A memorial outside of Oxford High School

A memorial is pictured outside of Oxford High School on December 7, 2021 in Oxford, Michigan following a deadly shooting.

(Photo: Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

US Child Gun Deaths 'Undoubtedly One of Our Chief Public Health Crises': Study Author

"The most likely reason that your child will die in this country is at the hands of a firearm. That's not acceptable," said the lead author of the new analysis.

Gun deaths among children in the United States rose to a record high 4,752 in 2021 and remained the leading cause of mortality among the nation's kids, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Chethan Sathya, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Northwell Health in New York and the study's lead author, toldNBC News that gun-related mortality among children "is undoubtedly one of our chief public health crises in this country."

"The most likely reason that your child will die in this country is at the hands of a firearm," said Sathya. "That's not acceptable."

The new study shows that gun deaths among U.S. children rose nearly 42% between 2018 and 2021—from 3,342 to 4,752—as lawmakers at the state and federal levels did little to nothing to combat the epidemic.

"In 2021, among children who died by firearms, 84.8% were male, 49.9% were Black, 82.6% were aged 15 to 19 years, and 64.3% died by homicide," the study notes. "Black children accounted for 67.3% of firearm homicides, with a death rate increase of 1.8% from 2020 to 2021. White children accounted for 78.4% of firearm suicides."

The authors added that "increased firearm mortality rates are correlated with higher poverty levels and lower socioeconomic status, which may contribute to unequal racial, ethnic, and state distributions."

As an example of state-by-state variability in gun deaths, the study points specifically to Missouri, where lawmakers from both parties have systematically hollowed out the state's gun regulations over the past decade.

"The repeal of universal background checks [in 2007] led to a sharp increase in firearm deaths the year after, 29% above the projected rate," the study observes. "Missouri, which already had one of the highest pediatric firearm death rates, as well as other Southern states, continued to see increases in death rates over our study period."

"State poverty levels were also found to be positively correlated with higher pediatric firearm death rates, and this correlation strengthened in 2021," the study adds.

The analysis also stresses that there were "substantial" spikes in firearm purchases during the coronavirus pandemic, "resulting in roughly 30 million children living in households with firearms, a known risk factor for pediatric firearm injury."

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, child firearm deaths in the U.S. increased by 28.8% compared to 2019, according to the new research.

NBC Newsnoted Monday that researchers "had expected to see a decrease in gun-related deaths among children in 2021, following their sharp increase in 2020, which had been believed to be driven by pandemic-induced lockdowns and children being confined at home."

But the opposite happened, with pediatric gun deaths rising by close to 9% in 2021 compared to the previous year.

According to a separate analysis released last year by KFF, 26,000 kids' lives could have been saved in the U.S. if the nation's gun mortality rate resembled Canada's between 2010 and 2021.

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