Cherry-picking Who Is A Child

by Cory Franklin

April 19, 2023

America has an undeniable, serious problem with gun violence and firearm deaths. The debate about how to solve it revolves around whether guns are the cause or a symptom of deeper societal issues. In truth, whether cause or symptom, gun violence in the young does not lend itself to a single solution. It is a multifactorial problem that is obscured by a recent alarming statistic, currently being disseminated in the media and scientific literature.  Rather than an argument for a ban on AR-15s or a defense of the Second Amendment, this piece is meant to clarify that misleading statistic.                                             

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), in 2020 firearms became the number one cause of death in children and teens ages 1-19 in the United States. Firearm deaths – accidents, suicides, and homicides – have replaced auto accidents (fatalities from which have been declining for years) as the leading cause, costing the lives of roughly 4,500 children and teens annually.

There is no way to sugarcoat this statistic. In no other comparable country, except for Canada, were firearms among the top five leading causes of childhood and teenage deaths, and even Canadian deaths were far below those in the US.  In the 1-19 population, compared with other countries, the US accounts for greater than 95% of the firearm deaths – far more than Japan and countries of Western Europe combined. This is shocking, and can’t be explained away. But it is also a fundamentally disingenuous statistic that, rather than illuminating, obscures the problem of firearm deaths in those under 20.          

Put simply, virtually no study on any scientific issue considers the broad grouping of ages 1-19 a single cohort. This grouping encompasses toddlers, preschoolers, elementary school children, adolescents and young adults. Is there any logic in combining those too young to walk with those learning to ride a bicycle with those who are driving cars? Unfortunately, this is how the CDC has defined children, thereby conflating vastly different circumstances.   The CDC cherry-picking of who is considered a child extends even further because infants under one year of age have been excluded.  The causes of death in the “under 1 age group” have little to do with firearms and their inclusion would disrupt the narrative.   

The differences matter.  Combining such different age groups makes for a heart wrenching headline but is not especially good science. True, every death has guns in common, but the circumstances in the various age groups are vastly different (as are the guns involved in these deaths.)  

In the younger groups, with the exception of a relatively small (but still terrible) number of accidental deaths, firearms are not a particularly significant factor. Once children become pre-teens, suicide by gun begins to show up as a more important cause of death, but there are still considerably fewer deaths than caused by accidents and motor vehicles. It is teenage homicides that comprise 60% of all the firearm deaths, and this accounts for the “leading cause in ages 1-19” statistic. Moreover, if the disproportionately high number of gun deaths in 18 and 19-year-olds is considered separately, the meme that “guns are the leading cause of death in our children” is no longer true.   

Why the manipulation of the stats? Are journalists and researchers simply trying to rationalize stronger gun control legislation? Is this an effort to tug on heartstrings by talking about “children” when the overwhelming problem statistically is intramural urban violence among teenagers?

You won’t solve the problem of the 5-year-old killed accidentally handling a gun in the home with the same measures as preventing the 12 year-old who attempts to commit suicide with a gun. The 16-year-old school shooter (despite the disproportionate press coverage they receive, school shootings represent a tiny fraction of gun deaths) is a completely different issue from the 19-year-old killed in an inner-city drive-by shooting. By themselves, gun control measures, whatever that constitutes,  can only address each of these challenges at the margins.                                                                                                      

In a memorable 1985 lecture at Harvard on societal problems later published in a book titled Family and Nation, the brilliant stateman and social critic Daniel Patrick Moynihan quoted the French author Georges Bernanos, “The worst, the most corrupting lies are problems poorly stated.” Moynihan emphasized that before we posit solutions to complicated problems – in this case gun violence – we must strive to understand the true nature of exactly what we are trying to solve. When considering gun deaths, lumping together everyone below the age of 20 (except for babies)- as the CDC, NEJM, and the press are doing –  is an impediment to that understanding. It is shoddy science, intellectually dishonest, and a profound disservice to the victims and the complex, tragic nature of firearm deaths.


About the author:

Dr. Cory Franklin

Cory Franklin, physician and writer is a frequent contributor to

He was director of medical intensive care at Cook County Hospital in Chicago for more than 25 years. An editorial ng the pathologists who studied it intently but had no idea what body part it could be. This was before it was known as trolling.)

There is a lesson here. The next time someone tells you, with unmistakable conviction, that he believes in “the science,” gladly offer to discuss science with him over a sandwich. Give him a choice, chorizo or perhaps kosher salami. board contributor to the Chicago Tribune op-ed page, he writes freelance medical and non-medical articles. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Post, Guardian, Washington Post and has been excerpted in the New York Review of Books. Cory was also Harrison Ford’s technical adviser and one of the role models for the character Ford played in the 1993 movie, “The Fugitive.” His YouTube podcast “Rememberingthepassed” has received 900,000 hits to date. He published “Chicago Flashbulbs” in 2013, “Cook County ICU: 30 Years of Unforgettable Patients and Odd Cases” in 2015, and most recently coauthored, A Guide to Writing College Admission Essays: Practical Advice for Students and Parents in 2021.

Comments 32

  1. Violence – not “gun violence.”

    The CDC no longer serves any constructive, useful purpose. It needs to be gutted, razed, and whatever legitimate functions remain should be either assigned to another agency, or farmed out to a quasi- or private entity.

    1. No matter how you look at it, the truth is no civilian should have access to an automatic weapon or one that can be converted. Civilians should be only allowed revolvers, single shot rifles, or shotguns. Access to these types of weapons means citizens will still have the “right to bear arms”. If I had my way (which I’ll never get) we would remove the second amendment and replace it with something that is free of the ambiguity.

      1. You do understand that the public does NOT have access to automatic firearms. And the “means” to make semi-automatic firearms function as automatic are already banned. The ‘single-shot’ approach to rifles/shotguns would put an end to hunting which is probably OK with you, but millions of hunters (and skeet/trap shooters) would disagree with you.

  2. This is same situation as how COVID was handled. As opposed to target the high risk population (ie the elderly especially age >75-80, morbid obesity, immunodeficient), all of population was considered to be at risk. All risk is not equal.

  3. Pick and choose (or should I say manipulate) your stats to justify your case. Just what the media is today. CDC…nothing but political hacks promoting current political agendas, instead of a worthwhile informative organization, just a joke. And worse yet, people continue to buy into this crap.

    It doesn’t help that our prosecutors lock up the cell and throw away the key BEFORE they put anyone inside !

    Don and David are spot on ! (Thank you)

  4. We live in Chicago in the loop and see the crime coming in from all directions. The carelessness of people, the laziness, the sloppiness and selfishness of the people who do not care about the surroundings shows more everyday.

    We have a people problem! Which when you are talking about crime and especially guns is the real problem…

  5. I believe society has broken down. Watching media coverage of criminal activity shows the level of anger and cruelty at levels I’ve never witnessed in such abundance committed by such young offenders. I’ve recently seen a teacher aide knocked down and kicked repeatedly; a large group of teens accosting an innocent out of town couple in Chicago beating, robbing and threatening them while others are destroying vehicles, taunting law enforcement and terrorizing others; male students in high school corridors knocking down a female student and pummeling/kicking her while she’s on the ground; a troubled trans person shooting children in an elementary school, etc. It reminds me of Lord of the Flies! Guns aren’t the cause…just the current means. Having elected officials try to blame some of this on PAST “poverty, injustice and lack of safe spaces” is nothing short of providing excuses for lack of self discipline, ignoring the difference between right and wrong, and the elephant in the room: SOME ARE USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO CREATE CHAOS BY USING GULLIBLE YOUNG PEOPLE! Those who are supposed to be in charge of the safety and well being of citizens are at best only REACTIVE and it’s time they are held accountable for not having actual procedures for incidents of public unrest….AT ANY AND ALL TIMES. Children are malleable and need STRUCTURE. They need to know about cause/effect and consequences. I think it’s high time we bring back the military draft and, as done in the past, give those who get in trouble the choice of jail or a stint with Uncle Sam in boot camp and the U.S. Army where they can learn all about structure! Stop finding excuses like those in Officer Krupke’s song and start demanding better behavior that doesn’t harm others or their property. Stop coddling the JDs and start restricting access to public areas where businesses and customers have a right to coexist safely. Adults need to be in charge!

  6. Doc, the CDC is no longer credible as they got into bed with pharma and the Covid mafia to injure us and steal our money. Trump caught on and wanted to stop it, but was too stupid, corrupt and feckless himself to do it. He should have fired Fauci and wicked the justice department on him, pharma, and FDA as well.

    Now, let’s talk about guns. You are correct, of course, 20 year olds have nothing in common with 2 year olds, but while relevant, this statement only serves to muddy the waters and encourage inaction.

    20 yer olds are being killed and killing themselves.
    Babies are getting shot.
    Kids bring guns to schools.
    Life expectancies are declining due to poor diet, access to care, and yes, the proliferation of guns.

    NYC instituted a mandatory 3 year jail term for someone caught with an illegal gun, this, along with beefed up and proactive policing, caused the murder rate to plummet, and brought people back to the city. So, yes law enforcement has a gigantic piece in whatever solution.

    Further, I need a driver’s’ license, firearms should require such, and mandatory training conducted by law enforcement and military personnel;.

    It is also a requirement that I purchase insurance for my auto. This is necessary for firearms as well.

    If your weapon is used in a crime, and it was not stored properly or secured, then you should be liable.

    If your weapon his stolen, then it must be reported, or you forfeit your right to legally own one.

    Let’s argue about what constitutes a child.

    Let’s keep arguing about what defines a woman.

    Let’s argue about what the definition of is is.

    Freedom, Liberty, the Republic.

    Meanwhile, the media scares the shit out of old people and they shoot a teenager who comes to the door without even asking him what he wants. A young woman is killed by a cracker because she got lost and pulled into his driveway, and young men are slaughtering each other in our streets every night.

    Wait till the summer doc. The carnage will be epic. And the handwringing will continue.

    Democrats “care” so much about the “disenfranchised” black youths that they infantilize them.

    Republicans don’t care. The murder rate per capita is just as bad in “red” states as it is in “blue” states.

    As long as Im strapped, I’m good. I’m gonna stand my ground.

    Don’t you come to my door.

  7. Thanks for another great article. Very timely too as I just read today’s “paper” and felt compelled to send them a note about their editorial about Adam Kinzinger. I was nice as the editorial wasn’t so bad. I just wanted to mention the reference about the CDC in the second paragraph calls firearms the “cause” of deaths. A firearm cannot be a cause. If I put a firearm on a table and just left it there it will not do or cause anything to happen.

  8. Outstanding column. Figures don’t lie but liars sure can figure. Break out 16-19 or 17-19 as a category and see what the overall numbers do. Such BS from CDC. But …… it’s the agenda. The far left has so angered the central and right in society that the “shoot first and ask questions later” attitude of the old west came to pass a day or so ago. Wrong driveway, wrong doorway and an innocent person is dead. More and more folks who live in rural areas keep a gun near the door out of sight. The old adage that a 1911 is better than 9-1-1 is true. I believe in FA training And licensing. The us vs them mentality is being fostered by the liberals who demand more $ to be spent on programs for the youth. Sadly too much of this money ends up in the hands of “revrunds” and community organizers who siphon money off to fund a more comfortable lifestyle for themselves. The waste is unreal. Thanks for an excellent column.

  9. Weren’t we directed by the CDC and Fauci to “follow the science” not long ago? We were duped into believing their faulty theory of the origination of the COVID virus! It was bat, not from the Wuhan lab, as we’re now finding out. So, the CDC seems to be very happy to issue false statements about the root causes of anything affecting us all, when it doesn’t fit their agenda. I’m reminded of my Econ statistics course in college, how to lie with statistics. Remember the ad “9 out ten doctors recommend the ingredients in Anacin?” What you don’t know is how many groups of ten they had to go through until they finally reached that one group of ten! This is the same thing the CDC is doing to push a narrative that is growing staler each month as we see teen gun deaths mounting. What the CDC is not telling us is the why, and the how. They don’t dare tell the public that parents need to be in charge of their kids, or that adults really need to step up and monitor their childrens’ activities. Kids are being lulled into stupidity by apps like Tik Tok, as “influencers” try to garner more viewers. These “games” are getting scarier each day, and no one has, thus far, been able to put “their big boy pants on” and stop this insanity. As posted above, society has broken down and is sliding into oblivion, unless we change course…..very soon!

  10. Simple minded politicians think we serfs demand that they “do something”, as if it is another expression of donning another awareness bracelet. COVID taught us the folly of that with lockdowns, mask.and jab mandates. All arguably doing more harm than the reason they were imposed. “Gun Control” is just the next example in the works.

  11. Sadly anytime the liberals want to push their agenda they skew the data to suit their narrative. But I guess both sides do so only it seems to me they’re the worst.

  12. Ah yes, gun violence. The second of the twin rocks (the other being abortion) the ideological ship of conservatism is breaking itself against. While I don’t disagree with your column highlighting semantics, I will point out how pointless it is. What is the number 1 killer of youth 1-19? Drag shows? Woke? Soros? Nope, it’s fire arms. Period.

  13. Great article. I never believed spouting “the science”, the term became repetitive and useless. What science are they talking about: astronomy, physics, biology, nature, etc.?

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