Over the past decade there has been a significant increase in the incidence of gunshot wounds (GSW) among Americans under 19 years of age. Despite the increase, pediatric GSW have received little attention in the literature, and no study has focused on pediatric victims of thoracic GSW. In the present study, the authors performed a retrospective review of the records of 51 patients under 17 years of age who were treated for thoracic GSW at adjoining level I pediatric and adult trauma centers between July 1987 and June 1995. The primary catchment area for these institutions is a lower socioeconomic, urban tenancy. The study population was 80.4% male and 86.3% black; the mean age was 12.4 years. The mean injury severity score and trauma score were 13.6 and 13.4, respectively. Although statistically significant differences could not be demonstrated with this population size, trends were evident when the group was subdivided by age group (< or = 12 years and > 12 years of age). The younger group was more likely to require a thoracic operation after injury (35.3% v 23.5%), to have unstable vital signs (41.2% v 26.5%), to have a higher total abbreviated injury score (AIS) for the chest (4.8 v 4.0); however, their total extrathoracic AIS was lower (2.1 v 3.1). The younger group spend more time in the hospital and in the intensive care unit (7.6 v 4.6 days and 2.0 v 0.9 days, respectively). The younger children were more likely to have sustained injury by unintentional crossfire (35.3% v 14.7%) and were never injured by intentional assault (0% v 47.2%). Overall, 50% of the patients required surgery, including 93.8% of the patients who had unstable vital signs at the time of arrival. All six deaths (11.8%) owing to the thoracic injury occurred in patients who had mediastinal injury that required an emergency-department thoracotomy (EDT). The authors conclude that among this predominantly black male population, there are different trends with respect to treatment, circumstances, and pattern of injury between the younger and older subpopulations.