Study links rise in handgun ownership to higher child mortality rates
MelissaJenco, News Content Editor
A rise in young white children dying from gunshot wounds may be linked to more families
owning handguns instead of rifles and shotguns, according to a new study.
About 1,300 children ages 17 and under are killed by firearms each year, and 5,790
are injured. For young children, these injuries and deaths often are accidental, according
to “Family Firearm Ownership and Firearm-related Mortality Among Young Children: 1976-2016”
(Prickett KC, et al. Pediatrics. Jan. 28, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-1171).
Authors set out to see if changes in gun ownership coincided with changes in firearm
mortality rates for young children using 1976-2016 mortality data from the National
Vital Statistics System and gun ownership data from General Social Survey. They looked
specifically at children ages 1-5 and due to data limitations, focused on those classified
as non-Hispanic white children.
Results showed since 2004, firearm-related mortality rates for young white children
have been rising following several decades of decline.
Firearm ownership has fluctuated. About 50% of white families with young children
owned firearms in 1976, which dropped to 29% in 2002. In 2016, 45% of these families
owned a firearm.
The type of firearm owned by families also changed over the years. About 72% of firearm
owners in 2016 had a handgun, up from 49% in 1976. The change is significant as handguns
are easier to handle and more likely to be loaded and unlocked, authors said.
Analysis showed a 1% increase in any type of firearm ownership was associated with
a nearly 0.5% increase in the mortality rate. Similarly, increases in handgun ownership
also were linked to increases in mortality rates.
“In line with these findings, medical practitioners should ask patients about the
presence of firearms in their home, discuss the developmental ramifications concerning
different types of firearms, and work with parents to find solutions that keep firearms
locked and unloaded and ensuring ammunition is locked in a different location ( all
practices that have been shown to have a protective additive effect on firearm-related
injury risk among children),” authors wrote.
Addressing firearm injuries is a priority for the Academy. Last year, it launched
the Gun Safety and Injury Prevention Research Initiative, which will bring together experts from around the country to study and implement
evidence-based interventions to protect children from firearm injuries.
“This study is a loud and compelling call to action for all pediatricians to start
open discussions around firearm ownership with all families and share data on the
significant risks associated with unsafe storage,” they wrote. “It is an even louder
call to firearm manufacturers to step up and innovate, test, and design smart handguns,
inoperable by young children, to prevent unintentional injury.”