The Oregon shootings raise the question of what can be done to reduce the frequency of gun violence. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argued in favor of smaller steps that might enjoy public support, such as requiring safe storage at home and a 10-year ban for anyone convicted of domestic violence or assault.
Kristof said the country would do well to tackle this problem as a matter of public health. To drive home that point, he made a grim comparison.
"In America, more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013), according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI," Kristof wrote in an Oct. 3, 2015 op-ed.
A reader asked us to see if that was accurate. We found that it was, and for more years than the one he cited. We also stress-tested his comparison by defining preschoolers more narrowly than he did and for the most part, the comparison still holds up.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks the deaths of law enforcement officers, whether they serve in the smallest sheriff’s department or a large federal agency. In 2013, 26 officers died in shootings. (Kristof was off by one because he included a non-shooting death.)
Counting the deaths of preschoolers is a bit more complicated. You have to decide the age range that defines a preschooler, and whether to include both accidental and intentional killings.
We learned from Kristof that he took preschoolers to mean every child from a newborn to 4-years-old, and he included gun deaths under all circumstances. Since public health routinely focuses on accidents, that is consistent with Kristof’s approach and gun violence normally includes homicide.
Kristof said he picked his age group based on the definition used by the U.S. Education Department. The agency’s guide to Title 1 services (aid for lower income children) leaves the range rather open-ended.
It says "For the purpose of Title I, children from birth to the age that the LEA (Local Education Agency) provides a free public elementary education may receive preschool services."
Some school districts might take children at age 5, in others, it might be 6. Kristof’s 0 to 4 seems defensible.
However, we also found that the CDC often considers preschoolers to be children from the ages of 3 to 5. We used both age groups when we pulled death statistics from the CDC’s WISQAR fatal injury database. This table using FBI and CDC data shows the results.
For the age range Kristof used, firearm deaths of preschoolers exceeded those of law enforcement officers in every year back to 2008. For the more restricted CDC age range, his statement held up in four out of the past six years.
Kristof said that more preschoolers are shot dead each year than are on-duty police officers. For children aged 0-4, that is accurate for the past six years. For children aged 3-5, the statement is true in most years, but not in every year.
We rate the claim Mostly True.
New York Times, A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths, Oct. 3, 2015
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Preschoolers (3-5 years of age)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WISQARS Fatal Injury Reports
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Law enforcement officers feloniously killed, 2004-2013
U.S. Education Department, Serving preschool children through Title 1, October 2012
Email interview, Nicholas Kristof, columnist, New York Times, Oct. 5, 2015
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