Firearm Injuries and Deaths in Children and Adolescents – A Call to Action

Just as pediatricians discuss poison prevention or using car safety restraints, we must also counsel patient-families on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths.  Pediatricians are in a unique position to provide anticipatory guidance to families about ways to keep children safe from firearms, particularly in light of the threat which children face from guns.  

In 2010, 6,570 people under the age of 25 years died from firearm-related homicide, suicide, and unintentional injuries in the U.S.  That number is:

            •  2 times the number of youth who die from cancer

            •  5 times the number who die from heart disease

•  15 times the number who die from infections.

Research shows that having a gun stored in the home increases the risk of a homicide by 3 times and increases the risk of suicide by 5 times. Suicide attempts involving a gun are nearly always fatal (91%) compared to other attempts, such as drug overdose (23%). Compelling evidence suggests that having a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide in adolescents – even among teens without a previous psychiatric disorder.

The risks of gun violence threaten children other than adolescents.  Studies show that even preschool children can have the strength and coordination necessary to fire a gun.  One demonstrated that 25% of 3-4 year olds and 70% of 5-6 year olds were able to pull the trigger on a variety of hand guns.  Access to the guns is a distinct risk for children: approximately 38% of American homes have at least one gun, and in homes with a minor child, 22% store  guns loaded, and 32% store  guns unlocked.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Bright Futures guide urges pediatricians to counsel parents who possess guns that safe storage and preventing access to guns is critical and that having a gun in the home increases the risk for suicide among adolescents. In addition, the AAP recommends the following specific policies to reduce these injuries and deaths for children and teens.

• Enact a strong, effective assault weapon ban;

• Eliminate the gun show loophole and require mandatory background checks and

waiting periods before all firearm purchases;

• Ban on high-capacity magazines;

• Enact strong handgun regulations; and

• Require safe firearm storage under federal law.

For more information, see the AAP’s Federal Advocacy Website at http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/federal-advocacy/Pages/Federal-Advocacy.aspx.

Nancy R. Kelly, MD, MPH

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