States had lower rates of children killed by firearms when they had stricter gun laws, a new study found.
Firearm injury is among the leading causes of death among children and adolescents in the U.S., and rates are higher than in other industrialized countries. Researchers from Children’s National Health System set out to look at the impact of state laws on these deaths.
The team used 2011-’15 data on children ages 21 and under from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System for death statistics and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s scores of how strict the laws are in each state.
There were about 4,250 pediatric deaths from firearms each year, an annual rate of 4.65 per 100,000 children. About 62% were assault-related, 87% were male and 69% were ages 18-21, according to “State Gun Laws and Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality,” (Goyal MK, et al. Pediatrics. July 15, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-3283).
Researchers found that adjusted mortality rates dropped 4% for every 10-point increase in the strictness of state gun legislation based on the Brady scoring scale.
“Our findings demonstrate a powerful association between the strength of firearm legislation and pediatric firearm-related mortality,” lead author Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., said in a news release. “This association remains strong even after we adjust for rates of firearm ownership and other population variables, such as education level, race/ethnicity and household income.”
The team also set out to look at the impact of three specific state laws that previous studies have found effective — universal background checks for firearm purchases, universal background checks for ammunition purchases and identification requirements like ballistic fingerprinting.
Data showed mortality rates were 35% lower in states requiring background checks for firearm purchases for at least the past five years. Too few states had enacted the other two laws for analysis.
Authors compared the protective impact of firearm legislation to legislation that aims to reduce motor vehicle crashes and secondhand smoke exposure and called for more research.
Authors of a related commentary said better data sources and funding would be needed for this additional research, which should look at the impact of legislation on different pediatric age groups and circumstances of firearm injuries as well as enforcement of the laws and other prevention strategies. They said this research should be used to inform future policies.
“As meaningful as universal background checks appear, there is no single ‘silver bullet’ policy that will lead to significant reduction in pediatric gun deaths through the pediatric age range,” they wrote. “Rather than the effect of one law, it is more likely the synergistic effects of multiple laws targeting different aspects of firearm regulations will be required to substantially decrease firearm fatalities in the U.S.”