RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Gun Violence Archive found the number of gun violence injuries and deaths amongst children (17 years old and younger) has surpassed 6,000 nationwide, representing more than a 5% increase from 2021.
"It's sickening," said Mario Black, an advocate and middle school teacher in Charlotte.
In 2018, Black's 17-year-old cousin Daquan Shannon was shot and killed outside a Charlotte convenience store; Black had been serving as an advocate against gun violence at the time of his death.
"It comes up frequently in conversation, and then you can hear it in their conversation, student's conversations," said Black about the prevalence of the issue. "It's a day-to-day reminder of the reality of the day and time we're living in. And for the students to have to have that on their mind, day in, day out, at school, in the community, at home, that is troubling."
He supports the creation of more recreation centers for youth.
"It gives the teens something to look forward to. If it's a teen rec center in the community, they look forward to playing basketball, and bonding with the mentors that are a part of that rec center," Black said.
A 10-page report released last month by NCDHHS referred to escalating gun violence as a "public health problem" and "equity issue," finding that child firearm injury hospitalizations increased by 120% from 2016 - 2020. Last year, 116 children across the state died from firearm-related injuries, a trend that is worsening.
"Why do the youth seem to think that having a gun solves everything," asked Karen Wells, whose 15-year-old son Ian was one of those killed in a shooting in 2021.
Ian was shot in Durham in 2021 after the suspected attempted to steal his gun.
"How are they getting these firearms? It's too easy for underage individuals to obtain a firearm. Because I didn't even know my son had obtained one," said Wells.
She would like to see greater options in all schools for students, believing in the importance of laying out a path to success.
"It just seems to me they have no idea of the finality of death," Well said.
"These kids are our future, and these kids are our future leaders that we should be helping to mold and build up. Let's do our part in the community," Black added.