Children Are Dying Because Of Americans’ Denial About Guns – Forbes

Today, 19 children will die or receive emergency treatment for a gunshot wound in the U.S. And tomorrow, another 19 will. And then another 19 the next day. In fact, 91% of all children who die from firearms in high-income countries across the world come from the United States, and guns are the third leading cause of death for all children between ages 1 and 17. Those are a handful of the sobering statistics reported in a new study on gun violence in Pediatrics.

Yet the myth persists that the freedom to own a gun without a universal requirement of background checks or a legal requirement to store those guns safely and out of children’s reach supersedes the lives of American children. Until the U.S. as a whole decides to recognize and accept what the tremendous cost of current lenient gun laws is, more than 1,000 more children will die next year. And the year after that.

Deaths of children and teens under 18 years old had been declining from 2006 to 2013, but they have increased over the past two years, just as the number of guns owned in the U.S. have dramatically increased.

One in ten children’s deaths in 2014 and 2015 resulted from a gunshot wound, noted Eliot Nelson, MD, a professor of pediatrics at University of Vermont Children’s Hospital in Burlington, in a commentary about the new study.

A child plays with a rifle as members of the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) mix with the public in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park as part of Fleet Week on May 27, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“By including a focus on nonfatal firearm injuries treated in emergency rooms, the authors also remind us of the fuller scope of these injuries and the toll they exact,” Nelson wrote. He also pointed out how much accidental firearm deaths have been undercounted because of misclassification as homicides. A study based on the National Violent Death Reporting System estimates that accidental deaths from guns are actually 80% higher for children under age 15.

The study, led by Katherine A. Fowler, PhD, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzed fatal and nonfatal gun injuries in children between 2002 and 2014. The statistics come from the National Vital Statistics System and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

An average 1,297 children die (two children per 100,000) and 5,790 are treated for injuries caused by guns each year, the study reported. Six percent of these deaths were accidental, 38% were suicides, 53% were homicides and the remaining 3% were from legal intervention or undetermined reasons. Guns injured children at a rate of 8 per 100,000 children, but this rate is likely considerably higher because of unreported injuries. Both accidental gun injuries and firearm deaths dropped from 2002 through 2014.

Suicides by firearm also dropped from 2002 through 2007 but then began climbing again, increasing 60% from 2007 through 2014 — the highest rate ever seen since tracking began.

“The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children,” the authors wrote.

Nelson called the high rates of adolescent homicide and suicide by firearms a “shameful lead” over other high-income countries. “Our high rates of such violent death are inextricably linked to firearm ownership and availability,” he wrote and referenced previous research showing that youth suicide by both long guns and hand guns predominate suicide methods in rural countries nationwide.

“The current report’s analyses confirm that suicides occur in response to short-term crises,” Nelson wrote. “The availability of a firearm may be especially critical for an impulsive teenager in such moments of crisis.”

Despite the inaccurate popular belief suggesting that a person who wants to commit suicide will “find another way” if guns are not available, most individuals fail at other methods of suicide and will not attempt again. But even one half-hearted attempt with a firearm has an extremely high likelihood of killing the person, and there is no second chance to get their stomach pumped or otherwise be revived.

But Nelson also wisely noted the importance of changing pediatricians’ approach to families who may own guns. Although the AAP policy that the “safest home is one without firearms” is fully supported by the evidence, “we should be mindful that this message may be off-putting to parents who keep guns for hunting or self-protection, and who are part of a widespread and deeply rooted social gun culture in our country, especially in rural states.”

Pediatricians, and others, need to engage those parents and emphasize the importance of safe gun storage and not giving into false beliefs, such as that children can be taught not to touch guns.

Another recent study in Hospital Pediatrics last month reported that somewhere between 18% and 64% of homes in the U.S. have a firearm, depending on the region of the country. Disturbingly, it reported that about 40% of parents who own guns incorrectly believe their children don’t know where the guns are stored, and more than one in five parents incorrectly believe their children have never handled a gun owned in the household. Young children know things. They’re curious and they find things out. They’re frequently more aware and clever than we give them credit for — but they’re not responsible enough to handle a firearm, no matter how much training they have received.

A survey of more than 5,000 fifth graders and their parents or guardians in 2004-2006 in three metropolitan areas found that less than 6% of gun-owning families stored their firearms safely, which means unloaded, locked, with trigger locks, and with ammunition locked up separately. Black families were more likely than white families to store guns safely.

The CDC study’s conclusion underscores how important it is for Americans to finally look at the U.S. gun problem for what it is. Understanding firearm injuries’ “nature and impact is a first step toward prevention,” the authors conclude.

In other words, admitting we have a problem is the first step to solve that problem. Yet a substantial proportion of the United States remains in denial about the severity, impact and scope of firearm violence in the U.S. and how unique it is in the world as an American problem. No other developed country in the world has firearm injury and death rates as high as those in the U.S. (There’s no evidence that other weapons make up the difference either: the U.S. leads the pack in overall homicides among all developed nations and among many less economically prosperous ones.)

“Finding ways to prevent such injuries and ensure that all children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments remains one of our most important priorities,” concluded the new study’s authors. Hopefully, the rest of America will soon decide to agree.

My book, The Informed Parent, with co-author Emily Willingham, is now available. Find me on Twitter here.

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