20 Children a Day Injured by Guns

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Harvard Medical School
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20 Children a Day Injured by Guns

News Review From Harvard Medical School

January 27, 2014

News Review From Harvard Medical School -- 20 Children a Day Injured by Guns

Nearly 7,400 people under age 20 end up in U.S. hospitals each year because of a gun-related injury. So says a study in the journal Pediatrics. That's about 20 children a day. Six percent of those admitted died from their injuries, the study found. Researchers used data from the 2009 Kids' Inpatient Database to examine the types of injuries seen. They looked at the cause of these injuries. In particular, were these gunshot injuries the result of an attack, suicide or accident? They also broke it down by age, gender and race. Among the findings: Nearly 90% of those hospitalized were male; 47% occurred in black children and teens. An attack or suicide was involved in most 15- to 19-year-old hospital admits related to guns. In children younger than 10, 75% were the result of accidents. Researchers are calling for increased public health efforts to reduce this all-too-common source of childhood injury. The study was published in Pediatrics online. HealthDay News reported on it Jan. 27.


By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School


What Is the Doctor's Reaction?

Guns are one of the top causes of death among American children. Yet, there is a gun in 1 in 3 homes. And many of these guns are kept:

  • In unlocked places
  • Loaded with bullets
  • In spots where children can find them

A new study from the journal Pediatrics looked at gun-related injuries in children under the age of 20. Hospital discharge information was analyzed from the 2009 Kids’ Inpatient Database. This included over 4,000 hospitals in 44 states.

The researchers focused on children who stayed in the hospital due to different causes of firearm injuries:

  • Unintentional (by accident)
  • Suicide attempts
  • Assaults
  • Cause not determined

In 2009, almost 7,400 children and teens were hospitalized because of gun-related injuries. That is about 20 children a day! Most common types of injuries were open wounds, broken bones and injuries inside the chest or belly. Children under 5 years of age were more likely to have an injury to the brain. About 450 (6%) died while in the hospital.

The researchers looked at trends of firearm injuries by age, gender and race:

  • Children ages 15 to 19  were hospitalized the most. Most of their injuries happened on purpose (assault).
  • In younger children, most injuries happened by accident (unintentional).
  • Almost 9 out of 10 hospitalized children were male.
  • Black males were hospitalized 10 times more often than white males.
  • Almost half of the children went home from the hospital with a disability.

Guns are hurting way too many children. Such violence has a big impact on communities. The researchers point out the critical need for public health efforts to prevent firearm injuries.


What Changes Can I Make Now?

The best way to prevent injuries from firearms is never to keep a gun in the house! If at all possible, remove all guns currently kept in the home. For information on how to dispose of a gun, call your local police station.

If guns cannot be removed from homes where children live and play, then safe storage of guns is critical. Here's what you can do:

  • Always lock the gun up in a place your children cannot reach.
  • Always keep the gun unloaded.
  • Lock and store the bullets in a separate place, and make sure to hide the keys.
  • Lock up gun-cleaning supplies, which can be poisonous.

Talk with your children about the dangers of guns. Remember that young children do not understand how dangerous guns can be, even if they are told. Explain that real guns are not like toy guns. Real guns are not like the ones shown on TV, in movies or in video games. Make sure your child understands that guns can seriously hurt or even kill a person.

Teach children NEVER to touch a gun. If they see a gun anywhere, make sure they know to:

  • Stop what they are doing
  • Do NOT touch it
  • Leave the area where the gun is
  • Tell an adult right away

To cut down the risk of injury from guns:

  • Talk with your children about ways to solve arguments without guns or violence.
  • Remove all firearms from your home. This is especially true if someone in the home has a drug or alcohol problem, becomes depressed, threatens suicide, has a major mental illness or has memory problems.
  • Before your child goes to any friend's house, always ask the friend's parent if there are guns in the house. If the answer is yes, make sure all guns are stored safely (as described above). If you have any doubts about the safety of someone's house, you can politely invite the children to play at your house instead.
  • Recognize the risk factors for suicide. Do not be afraid to talk about it. If someone is thinking about suicide, do not keep it a secret. Help them get proper mental health treatment.

Remember that “non-powder guns” can also cause serious injury and death. These include ball-bearing (BB) guns, pellet guns and paintball guns. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that children and teens under 16 should never play with these types of guns.


What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?

Gun-related injuries in children must be prevented. Which public health efforts work best to lower the number of firearm injuries in children needs further study. As does the long-term physical and mental health effects of gun-related injuries in children.

Pediatricians also must play a role in preventing these injuries. You can expect your pediatrician to talk about gun safety at yearly checkups, even the ones in early childhood.

Last updated January 27, 2014

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