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Access to Guns in Childhood and Long-Term Outcomes in Adulthood :

July 6, 2021

We are all aware of the potential tragic outcomes of having childhood access to a gun in the home.

We are all aware of the potential tragic outcomes of having childhood access to a gun in the home. Such access increases their risk of fire-arm related suicides, homicides, and unintentional injuries (References 10-13 in the core paper). Is having access to a gun in childhood associated with adverse outcomes during adulthood? This is the question that Copeland et al (10.1542/peds.2020-042291) address in an important article being early released this month in Pediatrics. The authors share with us a prospective look over two decades at a community-representative longitudinal sample from southeastern US to determine whether childhood gun access is associated with adult criminality or suicidality.  

The authors found that more than half of the sample reported having a gun in the home during their adolescence and of these youth, (surveyed up to 8 times between the ages of 9 to 16 years) almost two-thirds (63.3%) were able to access the gun themselves, and a quarter of respondents said that growing up they actually owned a gun themselves. Having access in the home to a gun growing up was associated with an increased risk of criminality and suicidality. The association was larger among males, those living in urban areas, and in those with behavioral problems as a youth. Interestingly, there was no association with suicidality or criminality as an adult if the gun at home during childhood if the gun was inaccessible.

What do we take away from this study in terms of action steps in our offices or communities to reduce the tragic consequences that may result from having access to a gun during childhood or adulthood? While the authors suggest their findings might provide support for targeted legislation regarding legal restriction of firearm access for young adults with risk factors for subsequent gun violence, a commentary (10.1542/peds.2021-050607) by Drs. Asad Bandealy, Monika Goyal, and Danielle Dooley from Children’s National Hospital offers other takeaways. For example, the commentary authors argue that state or federal restrictions might not detect many who have not been detected by legal authorities leaving them with access to firearms despite those restrictions. Drs. Bandealy, Goyal and Dooley call for using this study to further strengthen our efforts in suicide prevention. They recommend and stress the need to not give children and teens access to where gun are stored. There is a lot of important information about the long-term implications of having access to a gun during childhood and adolescence in the home in this study and commentary, so link to both to learn more.

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