Calling it an "epidemic," scientists in a new study Thursday announced an alarming increase in the number of firearm deaths of school-age children in the United States: 38,942 in those 5 to 18 years old from 1999 to 2017.
"It is sobering that in 2017, there were 144 police officers who died in the line of duty and about 1,000 active-duty military throughout the world who died, whereas 2,462 school-age children were killed by firearms," said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., the study lead author from Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine.
He called the epidemic a major clinical, public health and policy challenge, noting that the rate of death in the U.S. is about six to nine times higher than other developed nations.
The study lands on the same day New Zealand announced it was banning all assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and military-style semi-automatic rifles in response to the nation's deadliest massacre last week. Gun violence has also been in the spotlight in the U.S. after a string of high-profile mass shootings in the past year.
According to the study, of the nearly 39,000 deaths, there were 6,464 deaths in children ages of 5 to 14 years old (average of 340 deaths per year), and 32,478 deaths in children ages of 15 to 18 years old (average of 2,050 deaths per year).
The cause of deaths in school-age children was 61 percent from assault; 32 percent suicide; 5 percent accidental; and 2 percent undetermined, the study showed.
Blacks accounted for 41 percent of overall deaths, and 86 percent of all deaths were in boys.
Data in the study came from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.
Study authors concluded that combating the epidemic of mortality from firearms among U.S. schoolchildren without addressing firearms is similar to tackling the epidemic of mortality from lung cancer without addressing cigarettes.
Other recent research has also looked at how often gun-related violence or accidents have killed U.S. children.
Earlier this year, a study in the medical journal Pediatrics said incidents involving guns are estimated to be the third-leading cause of injury-related death among American children 17 and under. Also, every day, 78 children, teens and young adults are injured or killed by guns, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported, citing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And just last week, a report found that at least 73 juveniles under the age of 12 were killed in gun accidents last year, roughly the same pace as the previous five years.
The study released Thursday will be published in the American Journal of Medicine.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Firearm deaths of US school-age children at 'epidemic' levels, study says