An average of 19 children die from gunshot wounds or are treated in hospital emergency rooms every day, with boys, teenagers and African Americans disproportionately affected, according to a new study that claims to be the most comprehensive analysis of childhood firearm deaths and injuries.
Unintentional shooting deaths declined from 2002 to 2014, and homicides involving firearms dropped from 2007 to 2014, according to the analysis, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. Suicides involving firearms, on the other hand, decreased until 2007, then dramatically increased through 2014. The new study analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance systems.
Firearms are the third-leading cause of death among U.S. children aged 17 and younger, according to the study. Firearms are the second-leading cause of injury among that age group.
“However difficult it may be to confront the problem of firearm injuries in our children, youth, and families, we cannot ignore the magnitude of this ongoing public health crisis,” Dr. Eliot Nelson, a pediatrician and professor at University of Vermont College of Medicine, wrote in an editorial accompanying the analysis. “Our time-honored role in preventive medicine, central to our pediatric mission, compels us to act.”
The dramatic increase in childhood gun-related suicide deaths tracks rising suicide rates among Americans generally. White and American Indian children were more likely to die by suicide than children of other races.
Most firearms deaths among kids and teens were intentional, with 53 percent of deaths classified as homicides, and 38 percent deemed suicides, according to the study. Only about 6 percent of deaths involving firearms were classified as unintentional.
Public health approach to firearms injury and death
With guns involved in so much childhood injury and death, it’s logical that pediatricians would ask parents about firearms in the home.
“Recognizing the prevalence of guns in homes and the potential dangers of easy access to them makes it both reasonable and wise to ask and talk about firearms as part of our injury prevention guidance,” Nelson wrote.
In reality, however, it’s not that simple.
According to a small study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014, 85 percent of respondents agreed that gun violence was a public health issue. Only 66 percent of those same respondents, all of whom were members of the American College of Physicians, thought doctors should have the right to ask patients about guns. And 58 percent of respondents said they didn’t ask patients whether they had a gun in the home.
Still, Katherine Fowler, lead study author and a behavioral scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that firearms casualties are preventable.
“There is much that can be done to effectively address the underlying risks for interpersonal violence, suicidal behavior, and unintentional firearm injuries involving children,” Fowler told HuffPost. “It is our hope that parents, pediatricians, and others will draw upon the best available evidence to keep children safe from harm.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.