Injuries are the most common cause of death in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 44 years old, and one of the most common causes of fatal injuries, especially in children, is guns. In this post I"ll discuss why it"s important for every parent to be mindful of the risk of gun violence, and what they can do to reduce that risk for their children.
Scope of the Problem
Though it has been highly politicized, gun violence is a public health issue. Guns are now the leading cause of fatal injury in the US, more common than motor vehicle collisions. Here are the numbers:
In 2017 in the US, 486 people died of unintentional gun injuries, 23,854 people committed suicide with a gun, and 14,542 people were intentionally killed by gun injuries. About 10% of these deaths occur in children. Among US adolescents 15-19 years old, gun homicides are the second leading cause of death; gun suicides are the third (1). For every child who dies by a gun, hundreds more are injured. Over 7000 children were hospitalized for gun injuries in 2009 (3). In 2010, 15,576 children were treated for gun injures in US Emergency Departments, and 1,970 of them died (1). Of those children who are hospitalized and live, about half will be discharged with a disability.
This appears to be a uniquely American problem. Forty-nine times as many young adults die by guns in the US compared to other high-income countries. In fact, for every 10 children under age 15 killed by guns globally, 9 live in the US (2). This is not a reflection of our rates of mental illness, as gun interest groups try to claim. Other countries with similar rates of mental illness and stricter gun laws have significantly lower rates of gun deaths than the US. This year, there will be more than 35,000 people who die from gun injuries in the US, including about 3000 children. Today, 7 children in the U.S. will wake up ready for a normal day, and be shot and killed.
Risks of Gun Ownership
Despite these stark statistics, many parents keep guns in their homes, often times in the belief that doing so makes them safer. The evidence paints a different picture. Guns in the home increase the risk of homicide by 300% and suicide by 500% (19, 20), and are 22 times more likely to be used in domestic homicide, suicide, or an unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense (8). Carrying a gun during an assault increases the risk of being shot by 400% (21). Keeping a gun in your home may make you feel safer, but it will put your family at increased risk of injury.
Perhaps the greatest risk of gun ownership is the risk of youth suicide. Multiple studies have found that adolescents" risk for suicide increases as their access to guns does (11-16), even for adolescents without prior psychiatric diagnoses. The risk for suicide is even greater when guns are stored loaded (17, 18). We know that suicides in children are typically impulsive, and more likely to be successful when they have easy access to lethal weapons: 90% of suicide attempts with guns are successful, compared to less than 5% of suicide attempts using less lethal means, like medications or sharp objects (9, 10). The risk for unintentional injury and suicide in children is reduced by 73% when guns are kept locked, and by 70% when they are kept unloaded (28). Therefore, if we reduce children"s access to guns, we can reduce their risk for death.