About the Leading Cause of Teen Deaths
The leading cause of death for teens is now firearms.

It used to be car accidents.

I have lots of thoughts about this.

I’ve been a youth pastor for 40+ years. Back in the 1980s suicide was a huge concern. At that point suicide was the #3 cause of death of teens. Us young and passionate youth pastors, my many peers, were teaching every way we could so that suicide wouldn’t become #2. I was so well-versed in this I was even the chair of our county suicide prevention coalition. Suicide never did reach #2.

In this new data suicide still is not #2. Or #1. With all of the new data on the rise of anxiety in teens you would think so. This is what I assumed when I read this new data. You would think with the mention of firearms that suicide would be a part of that.

Thankfully no. As if this is some sort of good news. These high numbers of firearm deaths is actual gun violence. In fact in 2019 alone there was a 29 percent increase in gun violence deaths for those under age 19. Gun homicides across the US in all age groups rose 33 percent in 2020. Those are high percentages.

Gun violence deaths is larger than car accidents (now #2), drug overdoses and poisoning (now #3), and cancer. Of course, this is larger than suicide.

This is homicides, not suicides. I have lots of thoughts about this.

For 39 of my 40 years of being a youth pastor, car crashes was #1. These numbers have dropped dramatically mostly due to better vehicle safety. Teens are still teen drivers (they still have that growing teen brain) but cars are better built to provide safety for all, especially teen drivers.

Some experts are saying that the rise in handgun ownership is to blame. Covid had a direct effect in the increase of handgun purchases. We are aware of all the high profile shootings that happen on school campuses and inside malls. Those numbers pale in comparison to the numbers of deaths due to interpersonal violence. Which means that gun-related injuries is also an increasing problem.

There is an even sadder note (this is personal to me) about the increase of gun homicides from all age groups. Black Americans make up 14 percent of our population and yet they make up nearly half of all homicide victims. 2020 is the first year that more children and teens were killed by guns than in car accidents. But gun violence has been the number one cause of death among Black teenage boys over 15 for the last decade. This grieves me so.  

When my boys were teens in the 1990s I made the decision that I would get between a bullet and them, even at the cost of my life. Thankfully this never happened. But I knew about the stolen guns they were handling and I knew about the beefs between crews that were going on and I knew that it would just take a moment for something to escalate to this point. We did lose my son’s cousin, a young man I knew well and discipled, to gun violence because his roommate was in a beef. The conflict escalated to a warning gun shot into their rented home. It just so happened that the bullet hit Maurice in the forehead while he was on the couch. Another good young black man gone.

These new numbers hurt my broken heart. The lives of young black men are a passion of my heart.  

I’m mentoring an incarcerated man (introduced to me from one of my sons in prison) who aspires to be a children’s book author. He has written a series for children ages 6 to 12 called TaQuan Makes a Choice. The first book in that series is about TaQuan being asked to hold a real gun from an older teen and the choice TaQuan has to make. This does not sound like a children’s book about bunnies in the sun. How would you illustrate a book like this? But you can see the importance of the message, right?

We are in year 2 of trying to find a publisher. I have found an agent who has pitched this book series to 14 different publishers. Four have said no. We are still waiting and praying to hear from the other ten. Will one of these have the foresight to try this series? Because you can see why this series is needed. (You can follow this story and get to know Latif at his webpage, Stay Focused Stay Free.)

The rise of gun ownership is only a small part of this problem. The dehumanization of the other is a part of this problem. “Powering over” thus the need to carry a gun is a part of this problem. The ingenuity of “ghost guns” is a part of this problem. Hopelessness is a part of this problem.

My broken-hearted bravery leads me to discern that the way of Jesus is the solution. The way of Jesus is hope for the future, as well as hope for today. Hope leads to better decision making today. The way of Jesus is compassion on the other. The way of Jesus is identity not in carrying a gun but in who God is growing you to be, which is living in hope of making that Plan B.

There is so much to teach. There is so much to pray for. There is so much to walk through with—how hope is best caught.

Parents, you have your very important role. I will continue to do mine. May lots of others join us.

John 10:10, a favorite verse of mine since the 1980s, teaches, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” I’ve hated teen death for a long time because Satan has taken out worldchangers before they could become their God-given purpose. My heart is broken yet again but I will continue on yet again.

For the love of teens…for the love of our young black men…


Sources: NBC News, The Guardian


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