Turn on the local news in the US and, more often than not, you’ll hear a story about gun violence. Serious injuries and fatalities from guns occur far too often nowadays. Whether or not stricter gun control laws are the answer is a topic for another day. However, one thing that everyone can agree on is that children are at risk for gun accidents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, homicides, suicides, and accidents from firearms cause twice as many deaths as cancer; five times as many deaths as heart disease, and 15 times as many as infectious diseases.
In a study done by the news organization USA Today using information collected by Gun Violence Achieve, between January 1st 2014 and June 30th 2016, more than 320 minors ages 17 and under and more than 30 adults were killed in accidental shootings involving minors. Nearly 700 children and 78 adults were injured. The study also found that there are two windows of vulnerability when most accidental gun shootings occur. One is around age three, when children pick up guns out of curiosity and accidentally fire upon themselves or others. The other window is in the teenage years, around 15-17 yrs, when kids are most likely to be playing with guns in groups and accidentally shoot one another.
Many parents are confident that their children would act safely around guns. They believe that their child knows the proper steps to take if they discover a gun. However, an experiment published in the journal Pediatrics documents alarming results. Researchers observed how 8-12 year old boys behaved when left alone in a room with a hidden gun, which, unknown to them, was modified so that it couldn’t fire. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the boys found the gun within 15 minutes. Only one child out of a total of 64 boys left the room to notify an adult. Of the boys who found the gun, 63% picked it up and handled it. Thirty-three percent (33) pulled the trigger. To repeat: 33% of the boys pulled the trigger on the found gun. These results indicate that most boys cannot be counted on to act responsibly around guns, and that parents should take steps to prevent accidents.
Why do children play with guns?
Guns can be alluring to children. To toddlers they look like toys. Children are naturally curious and want to investigate that “new toy”. For adolescents, curiosity plays a role. But also, teens’ brains are still developing, so they do not always make the best decisions about their safety and health.
What can I do to prevent an accident if I have a gun at home?
Always store your firearm with the ammunition out of the gun. Keep the gun locked up and out of the reach of kids. Lock the ammunition separately from the gun. Never leave a gun out and unattended. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, research shows that keeping guns locked and unloaded reduces the risk of accidents by 70%.
What if my child wants to visit a friend’s home whose parents own a gun?
Teach your child about gun safety. Tell them to follow these rules if they come in contact with a gun:
1. Stop what they are doing and do not touch the gun.
2. Leave the area where the gun is.
3. Tell an adult right away.
Is it okay if my child plays with toy guns?
Children see guns in movies, television, and video games. It is very important to explain to them the difference between real guns and the pretend guns they see in the media. Explain to them the real-life consequences of gun use such as serious injury and death.
Where can I find more information?
You can contact your local police department to learn more about laws and techniques regarding the proper handling and storage of guns.
Fenn, R, Foley L, Penzenstadler, N. Associated Press and USA Today. “Chronicle of Agony: Gun Accidents Kill at Least 1 Kid Every Other Day.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 14 Oct 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/10/14/ap-usa-today-gun-accidents-children/91906700/. Accessed 21 Dec 2016.
Kids Health- Gun Safety http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/gun-safety.html
Teen Zeen- Teens and Guns http://www.teenzeen.org/teens-and-guns.html
USA Today. “Guns in the Home Proving Deadly for Kids.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 28 May 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/11/children-protection-gun-violence/2079177/ Accessed. 27 Dec. 2016.
This blog post was written by Carlos Arrieta, Medical Student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and edited by Dr. Susan Buchanan.