Fact Check

Does an 'Empty Shoes' Memorial in Washington, D.C. Represent 7,000 Children Killed by Guns Since Sandy Hook?

Seven thousand pairs of empty shoes on display at the U.S. Capitol were intended to represent child victims of gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting.

Published March 13, 2018

Updated March 26, 2018
A temporary memorial at the U.S. Capitol displays a pair of empty shoes to illustrate the 7,000 children killed by guns since the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

On 13 March 2018, a video of thousands of empty pairs of shoes displayed outside the United States Capitol building began circulating on social media, purportedly placed there to represent all children who died from gun violence after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which a gunman killed twenty students and six teachers:

The striking images were shared frequently, but there was some confusion about the involved numbers:

According to the event organizers, 7,000 pairs of shoes (14,000 shoes in total) were used in the display, symbolizing that between 14 December 2012 and 13 March 2018, 7,000 children were killed by guns in the United States.

The event was organized by activist group Avaaz, which put out a press release clarifying the number (7,000) as well as the manner of death (all gun violence among people under the age of 18):

According to a press release issued in advance of the event, the figure of 7,000 came from the Centers for Disease Control. No link to any supporting information was included, but Avaaz said that guns kill more than "1,300 American kids a year." Approximately five years and three months passed between the Sandy Hook shooting and the demonstration; in that period of time by those figures, the number of children killed by guns would be roughly 6,825.

Using the CDC's database search tool, we were unable to arrive at precisely the same numbers due to the way such information is catalogued and presented. The parameters available were slightly different, and we were able to access statistics for every recorded death of an individual under the age of 18 for the years 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 (the system does not yet have data for 2017). The four-year tally for all firearm deaths in that truncated period was 5,683, which per year broke down slightly higher at 1,421 firearm deaths on average among those under the age of 18. When extrapolated to the five-year, three-month period the empty shoes protest encompasses, the number is closer to 7,460.

We contacted Avaaz to ask about the source of their numbers, and they replied:

We arrived at the number based on CDC estimates of ~1300 kids killed by guns a year (a number the CDC calls conservative). Since the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Dec 2012 until now, the math shakes out to roughly 7000 kids (0-17) killed by guns since then.

The demonstration was genuine and took place on 13 March 2018.

Variations: On 16 March 2018, an initiative published by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP)'s AAP News reiterated CDC statistics indicating 1,300 children in the United States died of gunfire on average each year. A Newsweek article published that day contrasted the number of children killed by guns per year with the number of soldiers killed in all campaigns since 11 September 2001:


The number of children killed by gunfire in the U.S. since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, surpasses the total of American soldiers killed in overseas combat since 9/11, according to a Department of Defense report.

The report accounts for total deaths in the five military operations since the war on terror began following the September 11, 2001 attacks through 10 a.m. EST Thursday, March 15. Over 17 years of combat, the U.S. has lost 6,929 soldiers. Including Department of Defense civilians killed overseas, that number grows to 6,950.

Concurrently, a Facebook meme circulated providing similar (but not identical) figures:

sandy hook combat

Using the above-provided estimate of 7,460 deaths of children since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for comparison, the Newsweek item held that Department of Defense statistics showed fewer American soldiers died in wars since 9/11 than American children cited in the original estimate. A Department of Defense document did not measure the two against one another, but it did provide the total number of war-related deaths in five separate campaigns after 11 September 2001 [PDF, archived].

According to that document updated on 23 March 2018, casualties both in combat and those classed as "non-hostile" were listed as follows:

  • Operation Iraqi Freedom: 4,424
  • Operation New Dawn: 73
  • Operation Enduring Freedom: 2,350
  • Operation Inherent Resolve: 61
  • Operation Freedom's Sentinel: 49

The number of American soldiers killed in all campaigns combined following 9/11 totaled 6,957. The AAP's statistic of 1,300 child deaths annually could be contrasted using the same figures in 16.5 years since 11 September 2001. In that period, approximately 422 soldiers died in active campaigns per year.


Jenco, Melissa.   "Call To Action: New AAP Research Initiative Aims To Protect Children From Firearm Injuries."     AAP News.   16 March 2018.

Sit, Ryan.   "More Children Have Been Killed By Guns Since Sandy Hook Than U.S. Soldiers In Combat Since 9/11."     Newsweek.   16 March 2018.

CDC WONDER.   "Underlying Cause Of Death, 2013-2016 Results."     Accessed 13 March 2018.

Avaaz.   "Monument For Our Kids."     11 March 2018.

United States Department of Defense.   "Defense.gov/casualty.pdf."     Accessed 26 March 2018.


Updated [26 March 2018]: Added "Variations" section.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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