Kids, Cops and Guns

A talk radio host called me for some show prep. He had a guest coming on who planned on making the claim that in 2010 guns killed more children under age five than cops.

She was right, but wrong at the same time.

Indeed, in the year 2010, more Americans under age five died from bullets than police did. But this scary statistic was designed to scare, not to illuminate. When you look at two issues, the perspective gets very clear very quickly.


Murdered Accidental
Children (CDC) 54 25
Police (Officer Down) 59 2
Children (% pop) 0.0003% 0.0001%
Police (% pop) 0.0131% 0.0004%
Difference % pop  49:1  4:1

Foremost, there are a lot more kids than cops. In 2010, we had about 44 times as many crumb crushers than active duty officers (U.S. Census Bureau and the FBI Crime in the United States tally for 2009). Comparing these two groups by raw numbers is, of course, inappropriate. Comparing gun deaths as a percent of each population group, as is the norm, is appropriate.

What we see is oddly comforting (if the thought of either kids or cops catching bullets could make anyone comfortable). In terms of homicides, cops are killed with guns 49 times more than preschoolers. The accidental death rate is much closer, but cops are still four times more likely to plug themselves than kids (likely due to handling guns daily and occasionally being a little too self-assured in the practice).


Where things get more interesting, and more depressing, is in how kids die in general.

Children and guns - homicides by assailant trendIn the most recent year for which data is available, we see that guns make up a mere 30 deaths for preschoolers, or a little more than ½ a child per state per year. Given the rather horrible behavior of inner-city gangsters who leave their hardware around the house, this number is surprisingly low.

Homicides are where the conversation gets prickly. Of all preschooler homicides, 92% were done without guns. Since small children are easily manhandled, guns are largely unnecessary. The 8% killed with guns includes those caught in gang-land warfare, a common occurrence in towns like Oakland, California. It is the non-gun homicides of small children that provide disturbing contrast.

Year over year, about 60% of the murdered kid are killed by their own parents. Another 25% by friends and acquaintances. Most of these are non-gun homicides – typically beatings, strangulation and drownings.

Gun Non-Gun
Homicides 51 619
Accidents 30 2,472
Homicides (%) 8% 92%
Accidents (%) 1% 99%
Homicides (% pop) 0.000% 0.003%
Accidents (% pop) 0.000% 0.012%

Yet nobody is calling for the licensing and registration of parents.


The sound bite that more urchins than officers are killed with guns is misleading at best. It is, without contradiction, unscientific. But it does expose a few important inarguable facts:

  • Kids are pretty safe in the United States
  • Guns are the least of their deadly worries
  • With gun accidents at an all-time low, we should focus on non-gun homicides and accidents

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