NORFOLK, Va. — The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says gunshots have now surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S.
Locally, the number of children shot and killed in Hampton Roads has risen in the last three years. In 2021 alone, 19 children were killed in shootings in the Hampton Roads area.
Clay Marquez has felt the impacts of gun violence in his own home.
"14 years ago, I lost my own son to gun violence, and it really hit home then," he said.
He, himself, did time in jail.
"I dealt drugs. I did 10 years in prison. I was part of the violence that perpetrated the violence against my own community," he said.
Marquez said it didn't surprise him to learn gunshots have now passed car accidents as the leading cause of death for children 0-19 years old.
After burying his own child because of it, he's dedicated his life to make sure no one else has to.
"Guns kill. When somebody loses their life, there are no do-overs, because that’s it."
RELATED: 13News Now Investigates: More children shot in Portsmouth, Norfolk than other Hampton Roads cities combined
The American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed data spanning back 20 years. According to the study, between 2001 and 2019, firearm-related deaths jumped while deaths due to car accidents dropped.
Sixty percent of those gun deaths were classified as homicides, 35% were suicides and 4% were accidental.
The study also says in 2019, African American teens had a gun death rate 4.3 times higher than White teens.
“There is no biologic plausibility for these disparities, but rather they are a reflection of racist systems and policies that perpetuate inequities in violent injuries and death,” the authors of the study wrote.
They went on to say the firearm suicide mortality rate was higher among White children.
As for accidental shootings, the AAP and Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew explained that it's vital to lock your guns away, and keep them out of the wrong hands by taking them out of your car, or locking the doors.
U.S. teens also have a higher risk of dying from a gunshot injury than their peers in other countries.
The study says in 2015, the U.S. accounted for over 90% of all gun deaths in children 0 to 14 years old in high-income countries.
Drew said gun violence among teens is something his department has been trying to get a handle on.
"People are so quick to pick up a firearm and use it, and it’s just horrific in how it affects communities, our neighborhoods, our cities," he said.
He told 13News Now that chiefs in the seven cities are always looking at new technology and outreach efforts to curb the problem, but police can’t do it alone.
"We didn't get here overnight. It’s a lot of hard work, but if people are willing to put in that work, I think we can come up with some real solutions," Drew said.
That’s what Marquez has been trying to do with his Stop the Violence campaign.
"When I went to prison, I learned my lesson, paid my dues," he said. "I gave back and I wanted to do something positive."
He hosts events to talk to kids about the consequences of pulling the trigger.
"Each one of us, we start in our own household. We start from there. We monitor our own children," he said. "I think it starts at home. It starts at school."
Marquez said he knows this problem won't change overnight, and he has a message for teens all over the area.
"Just be a child. Don't speed up," he said. "Regardless of your circumstances, wherever you grew up, you just keep on pushing and studying and you just be the best in your class, the best student, the best individual that you can be."
During the Virginia Beach City Council meeting scheduled for March 15, councilwoman Sabrina Wooten plans to introduce a resolution to create a memorial for gun violence victims.
To read the entire study from AAP, click here.