Recently, in the journal “Pediatrics,” Dr. K.A. Fowler reported on the number of children in the United States who are wounded or killed by guns. Almost 1,300 U.S. children die and 5,790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year according to an analysis of information to several national databases. Although child firearm homicide rates in the United States decreased significantly (36 percent) from 2007 to 2014, child firearm suicide rates showed a significant upward trend (60 percent) during the same period.
Boys are at highest risk for nonfatal and fatal firearm injury, particularly those aged 13-17. African-American children have the highest rates of firearm mortality, whereas white and American Indian children are at the highest risk for suicide. Firearm homicides occur more often in the south and Midwest.
Firearm suicides often are precipitated by situational factors, such as relationship problems, and by mental health factors. In about one quarter of suicides, the child discloses his/her intent before the incident.
Firearm homicides of younger children are likely to be related to conflict between parents or to situations where the child is a bystander. Those of older children tend to be precipitated by a crime or be related to a gang, drugs or gun use.
Most unintentional firearm deaths of children involve playing with a gun.
Firearm related deaths are the third leading cause of death in children ages 1-17 and that 4.2 percent of U.S. children have witnessed a shooting in the past year. In a classroom of 20 students, almost one out of the 20 students has seen someone shot.
Parents should be asking their health care providers for information about firearm safety, about screening for mental health problems that could lead to firearm injury, and strongly asking for a rational public health approach to help secure the safety of our children.
This is a public health issue, no one is safe or secure. If these children had Ebola what would you be asking your elected official to do to save your children?
For more information on gun safety, visit www.healthychildren.org.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.