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Study links rise in handgun ownership to higher child mortality rates :

January 28, 2019

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,

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.

Authors of a related commentary also called for action.

“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.”

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