The number of children injured or killed by guns in the United States is much greater than we realized. Even in the wake of a seemingly endless stream of reports of mass shootings and gun deaths, the latest findings are shocking. A newly published study in Pediatrics, which looked at the data from 2012-2014, brings the gun epidemic into sharper focus, revealing that an average of 5,790 American children receive emergency room treatment for gun-related injuries each year.
Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected by guns, according to the report, while rates of homicide among children are higher in many Southern states and parts of the Midwest than in other parts of the country.
Twenty-one percent of these gun-related injuries are unintentional, and yet, nearly 1300 children die each year from firearm-related injuries—making guns the third-leading cause of death for children in America. Unintentional injuries, such as drownings and accidents, and illness, are the one and number two causes.
“In June alone, a 6-year-old accidentally shot and killed a 4-year-old in South Carolina, a father accidentally shot and killed his 9-year-old daughter in Indiana and an 8-year-old Mississippi boy was accidentally shot in the chest… Sadly, the list of child gun deaths goes on,” notes Ryan Bort.
Analyzing national data on fatal firearm injuries from death certificates in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System database, researchers found that of these deaths, 53% were homicides, 38% were suicides, 6% were unintentional, and 3% were related to law enforcement or undetermined.
Of the injuries, 71% were assault-related, 21% were unintentional, 5% were related to law enforcement encounters, and about 3% were the result of self-harm.
The study also broke down gun deaths among children by state from 2010-2014: the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alaska were at the top of the list.
Overall, older children, from 13 to 17, had a rate of fatal injury more than 12 times higher than the rate for children 12 and younger.
“These are preventable injuries that have a major public health impact on early death and disability among children,” said Katherine Fowler, a behavioral scientist at the CDC and lead author of the study.
While youth gun deaths happen all across the country, in every region and state, there is one obvious and consistent trend: where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths.
According to a study in The American Journal of Medicine last year, 91 percent of the children killed by guns around the world in 2010 were in the US, where nine children die from gunshot wounds every day.
The most reliable and effective way to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities. However, safe gun storage can effectively reduce unintentional injury and suicide risk for children and adolescents.
“And finally,” Nelson wrote, “given the impulsivity, risk-taking, and unpredictability of adolescence, we should promote safe storage as a routine measure.”
Dr. Eliot Nelson, a pediatrician at the University of Vermont Medical Center, in an editorial that accompanied the new study, suggested that pointing out to parents that they might be underestimating “kids’ propensity to handle guns unsafely, even when they’ve been taught,” could have a very positive effect, especially in households where parents insist on keeping firearms for myriad reasons.
– Danielle Bizzarro