DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- According to a new report from Pew Research Center, shooting deaths for children and teens younger than 18 years old increased by 50% from 2019 to 2021.
There were 2,590 shooting deaths in that age group in 2021, the highest figure since the CDC started tracking in 1999, a total that does include suicides and accidental shootings.
The upward trend represents a reversal of progress made in tackling the issue at the beginning of the century. From 1999 to 2013, shooting deaths in that age group decreased by nearly 30%, before more than doubling over the following eight years.
"Any time a child's life is lost, that anyone's life is lost, it's just sad. It resonates with all of us, especially the lawmakers, you know, because these are our future leaders that we are losing," said Mario Black, an advocate who leads the Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury.
The issue is personal to Black, whose 17-year-old cousin Daquan Shannon was shot and killed outside a Charlotte convenience store in 2018. Black supports funding for school counselors and therapists to help process grief and tragedies.
"Long-term, it impacts their mental (health). You've got kids who are seeing it, witnessing it, and at 9 years old, 10 years old, you don't really know how to process it," Black explained.
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"Before it hit our family, I was watching my children grieve, losing their friends. And no, (the increase in shooting deaths) doesn't surprise (me). And I feel like it's going to get worse until they change gun laws," added Nita Shaw, whose 20-year-old son Amon was shot and killed in 2020.
Nobody has been arrested for her son's death. Shaw would like to see both enhanced training for law enforcement, and vacancies within police departments filled.
"They most definitely need funding. They most definitely need to recruit more officers," said Shaw.
Wednesday, there will be an event in Durham where lawmakers will discuss the Supporting Women with Career Opportunities in Policing Services Act, which is aimed at incentivizing women to join law enforcement. Currently, just 12% of police officers across the country are women.
Shaw helped start Guns Down, Hearts Up following Amon's death, with a goal of connecting with youth. Just over a year before his passing, Shaw's nephew, 22-year-old Gregory Shaw, was also shot and killed.
"I hardly sleep. One minute I want to run away. One minute I just want to hide, one minute I don't have the energy or the patience to deal with anybody," said Shaw about the mental health effect both deaths have had on her.
Black agreed the toll extends to adults, sharing his experience escaping the 2020 Beatties Ford Road mass shooting in Charlotte, in which four people were killed, and several others injured.
"It left a lot of us traumatized just to hear the gunfire ringing," said Black.
According to a report released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 1 in 6 adults say they've witnessed someone injured by a gun, further finding that Black adults are twice as likely as White or Hispanic adults to say they've had a family member killed by a gun.
"It's a generational curse in the Black community," Black said.
He backs more youth centers to provide outlets for students, saying the community has a responsibility to act as role models for children, especially regarding conflict resolution.
"When we know better, we do better. If we want better, we have to do better. We've just got to redirect, re-guide the mindset," Black said.