Parents who reported that their child had a mental health condition or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were no more likely to store firearms safely than other parents, a study released today shows.
Furthermore, only about one-third of all gun owners with children followed AAP recommendations to store firearms locked and unloaded.
“Indeed, for homes with children and guns, the odds are roughly two to one that firearms are notstored in accordance with recommendations promulgated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, regardless of whether children in the home have a history of self-harm risk factors,” authors wrote in the study “Firearm Storage in Homes with Children with Self-Harm Risk Factors” (Scott J, et al. Pediatrics. Feb. 21, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-2600).
In 2015, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among children ages 10-17, and firearms were used in 40% of those deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Few studies have looked at whether parents of children who have a mental health condition that puts them at risk for suicide are less likely to own guns. Little also is known about whether gun owners are more likely to follow AAP firearm storage recommendations if their child has a mental health condition.
To answer these questions, researchers analyzed data from a 2015 web-based survey of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. The survey was completed by 3,949 adults, a response rate of 55%.
Respondents were asked if they or anyone they lived with owned a gun. Those who answered yes were asked whether they stored their firearms loaded and unlocked, loaded and locked, unloaded and unlocked or locked and unloaded.
Participants also reported whether they were the caregiver or health care decision-maker for a child under age 18. They were asked if the child had ADHD, depression or a mental health condition other than depression, which have been shown to increase the risk of self-harm.
Results showed 42% of homes with children had firearms. There was no difference in gun ownership based on whether children had a mental health condition that put them at risk for self-harm.
The percent of households that stored guns locked and unloaded also was similar between households with children who had and did not have a mental health condition (35% vs. 32%, respectively).
“Given the prevalence of household firearms in the U.S., our findings suggest that millions of US children are placed at substantially higher risk of fatal firearm injury, especially suicide, than would be the case were parents to follow guidelines first put forward by the American Academy of Pediatrics more than a quarter century ago,” the authors concluded.
In a related commentary, David C. Grossman, M.D., M.P.H., of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, called on pediatricians to screen all adolescents for depression.
“When screening yields depression concerns, a natural opportunity arises to ask about access to household firearms and provide intensive behavioral counseling on safe storage,” Dr. Grossman wrote.