On Sunday, at least 26 people were killed by a gunman who opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, a small town in Texas. According to The New York Times, this amounts to some 7% of the town’s population. While details are still unspooling, the county sheriff told The Washington Post that a large number of the victims—somewhere between 12 to 14 of the people who were killed and injured—were children. According to state officials, a child as young as 18 months was among the dead.
The massacre in Texas is the deadliest mass shooting of children since Sandy Hook. People will mourn the loss of these young lives as a wake-up call for gun control. But while the shooting in Texas was undeniably gruesome, it was not a unique incident for children in this country. The fact is that in America, more children are shot on a daily basis than the number that were shot in Texas on Sunday.
According to a study on children and firearm injuries, published in the journal Pediatrics in June by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Texas, approximately 19 children a day die or receive emergency treatment for a gunshot wound in the United States. The study, which is one of the most comprehensive of its kind, found that in total, between 2012 and 2014, an average of nearly 1,300 children died and 5,790 were treated for gunshot wounds every year.
Another analysis by The Washington Post using more recent data from 2015 found that on average, 23 children were shot each day that year. This is a uniquely American problem—one study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that in 2010, among high-income countries, 91 percent of children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms came from the United States.
Children are shot on a daily basis, but the epidemic largely gets swept under the rug outside of the shock of mass shootings like those in Texas and Sandy Hook. This might have to do with the racial disparity of which children are affected by gun violence—according to the Pediatrics study, black children have the highest rate of firearm mortality overall, at 4.1 per 100,000 versus 1.5 per 100,000 for white children. While white and American Indian children have higher rates of death by firearm suicide, the disparity mostly results from black children having higher rates of death by firearm homicides. A huge proportion of these children who die from firearms overall—82 percent—are male, and most are older, between the ages of 13 and 17.
What happened in Texas is horrifying. But as we go through the ritualistic steps of processing the massacres that have become woven into the fabric of American life, it’s important to acknowledge that we simply can’t talk about gun violence without addressing the fact that children, disproportionately black boys, are dying every day. And those who survive gun violence face ongoing trauma.
“When the physical wound is repaired, there’s still another wound—one that can be lifelong,” Arthur Lurigio, a clinical psychologist, told ABC News earlier this year. “Once a child has been shot, their illusion of safety is completely and utterly shattered.”
According to another CDC report, increased risk for youth violence and crime is associated with many factors, including concentrated poverty, unemployment, crowded housing, and neighborhood violence and crime. When looking at the problem of gun violence and children as a whole, it’s clear that tighter gun laws are an important, but only partial, solution.
Without putting this reality at the front and center, the gun control debate has too much potential to err on the side of increasing the policing of minorities rather than fixing the root problems that engender gun violence. For example, as Patrick Blanchfield pointed out in an essay for n+1 last year, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was part of the larger crime bill signed into law by Bill Clinton that produced many of the frameworks for mass incarceration, like harsh sentencing guidelines and billions in funding for new prison construction. Blanchfield writes:
Given that today’s Aversive Minimalists include many white liberals whose primary concerns vis-à-vis “gun violence” more or less boil down to making high-profile rampage killings disappear from their newsfeeds, the possibility that they will embrace measures that gesture at solving that problem while doubling down on militarized policing, surveillance, and America’s overcrowded prisons is depressingly easy to imagine. As many critics have observed, we would be naïve to think that heavy-handed gun control measures would not involve the same disproportionate racial targeting and police violence we rightly condemn in the War on Drugs and in everyday encounters in places from Baltimore to Ferguson to Cleveland to Oakland.
The gun control debate often swirls around the trends illuminated by the massacre of the month. By failing to focus on the overall issue—one that is inextricably linked with poverty, segregation, and racism—children will continue to suffer. That somewhere around a dozen children were shot in Texas on Sunday is a tragedy, but it’s also one that families face across the country every single day.