Preventing Gun Injuries to Kids Begins at Home

As a parent, the last thing you want to imagine happening to your child is being shot. But for more and more American parents, gunshot wounds to their children are a stark reality.

Gun violence is the second leading cause of death to American children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In the United States, 18,270 children and teens were injured and 2,694 children died from gunshot wounds in 2010, the most recent year for which there are statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). American children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from a gun than their peers in 25 other high-income countries combined, according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).

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The Dangers at Home

Now a report finds more evidence that preventing gun injuries to kids, like so many other health and safety issues, begins at home. In the new study, researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor and Harvard Medical School in Boston analyzed data from two governmental sources, the CDC and the Kids’ Inpatient Database, encompassing information on more than 31,000 children who were hospitalized for gunshot wounds.

They found a strong association between the incidence of gunshot wounds in children and the percentages of households with firearms. The association was highest in homes where firearms not only were present but were stored loaded and/or unlocked. More than three-quarters of the gunshot wounds in this study were inflicted by handguns rather than shotguns or hunting rifles.

How can you protect your children?

— Know the risks. Many parents believe that firearm injuries could never happen to their children, but statistics tell another story. The number of children and teens killed by guns in 2010 was nearly five times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan that year, according to the CDF. The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each.

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— Do not keep a gun in your home, if possible. Many people profess that having a gun in their home makes their family safer. Again, the facts say just the opposite. According to the CDF, having a gun in your home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher. For every time a gun in a home is used in self-defense there are 11 completed and attempted gun suicides, seven criminal assaults and homicides with a gun and four unintentional shooting deaths or injuries. More than half of youth who commit suicide with a gun obtain the gun from their home, usually a parent’s gun.

— If you do have a gun at home, store it safely. “Safely” means storing it unloaded and locked. It might sound obvious, but in at least one study of gun-owning Americans who had children in the home, more than 21 percent stored their guns loaded, more than 31 percent stored their guns unlocked, and close to 10 percent stored their guns both unlocked and loaded, according to the AAP.

— Talk to other parents. If your child will be spending time in friends’ homes, talk to those friends’ parents about whether they have guns in their homes and if they do, how those guns are stored.

— Talk to your children. Use of alcohol and other drugs and other risky behaviors may increase children’s and teens’ risks for gun violence, according to the AAP. Maintaining regular communication with your children and establishing a relationship in which they know they can talk to you about important subjects can help you stay on top of their behaviors, and may help to keep them safe.

— Support stronger gun laws. Ask your legislators to support stronger laws around the sale and safe storage of firearms, and for sustained funding for research about gun violence. For more information, here’s the AAP’s video and magazine about gun violence and kids.

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Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based writer who specializes in health and parenting topics.

 

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