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Gun Violence and Children: Practical Ways to Provide Mental Health Support (Part One)

By: Thay Guirguis

Gun violence committed in a public setting significantly impacts the larger community. The recent mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois; Uvalde, Texas; and Buffalo, New York, have affected the national consciousness and devastated the lives of victims’ families. Meanwhile, ongoing gun violence in neighborhoods can create a chronic state of trauma for community members living in an environment with frequent non-mass shootings.

Pulling from our recent webinar, “Gun violence and children: practical ways to provide mental health support”, this three-part blog series will explore the repercussions of gun violence on young children, and what parents, caregivers, teachers, and others can do to support young children’s mental health.


Gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the United States

Working in child welfare, I am surrounded by children exposed to various forms of violence. However, I must admit that I was stunned to learn that according to the CDC, in the year 2020, death by firearms has become the leading cause of death for people under the age of 19 years.1

Let me stress this again – gun violence is the number one cause of death for children in the United States. In 2020, 4,368 children died from gunshot wounds.2

Mass shootings represent 1% of all firearms deaths but receive the most media attention.3 Children are more likely to die (60%), nearly two-thirds from firearms connected to domestic violence or street shootings.4

Beyond the loss of life caused by gun violence, living in a community plagued with violence is associated with increased risk of developing chronic diseases and mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.5

Trauma responses in little ones

Young children are aware of the danger. They can develop traumatic responses to gun violence they have witnessed directly, through the media, or by overhearing adults’ conversations. How can parents, caregivers, teachers and others identify when a child is struggling to process violence in their community? The below table lists behaviors a young child may exhibit in response to gun violence:

Trauma Responses in Little Ones: Child seems to be fighting the world (Modeling witnessed behaviors; May direct aggression to self possibly for fear of being punished by adults; Recklessness, prone to accidents, and self-inflicted injury), Child becomes inhibited (Limited use of words, Does not show a broad range of emotions, Vary between excessively clingy or keeps a distance from parent), Child seems to be regressing (Difficulty with previously mastered milestones: feeding, sleeping, toileting; Fussy and hard to console), Child is sensory-seeking or avoidant (Hyperarousal or Hypervigilant, Reluctant to touch and approach, Difficulty focusing/impulsivity, Lack of body/space awareness)

Our next blog post will explore strategies parents, caregivers and teachers can use to help infants and young children make sense of their traumatic experiences.


1 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2201761

2 https://publichealth.jhu.edu/sites/default/files/2022-05/2020-gun-deaths-in-the-us-4-28-2022-b.pdf – pg 29

3 https://time.com/6182856/children-gun-deaths-mass-shootings/

4 https://www.axios.com/2022/05/26/gun-deaths-children-america

5 https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/communityviolence/index.html

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