While studies in 2016 found that motor vehicle accidents surpassed gun deaths for children, a roughly 30% spike in the latter between 2019 and 2020 made firearms the leading cause of death, according to an analysis of CDC data published in the New England Journal of Medicine in late April.
The CDC reported 4,368 child deaths by gunfire in 2020, the vast majority of which were homicides, followed by suicides. Unintentional gun deaths and deaths where a motive could not be determined accounted for a very small portion of the data.
The CDC data defines children and adolescents as anyone 19 years old or younger.
The largest factor in gun deaths taking the top spot is the sharp decrease in motor vehicle deaths in recent years, however. Motor vehicle crashes amounted to 10 deaths per 100,000 children and adolescents in 1999, a figure nearly twice as high as gun deaths in 2020.
Motor vehicle deaths have steadily dropped since 2000, amounting to just over 5 deaths per 100,000 children and adolescents in 2020.