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Pediatric Firearm Injuries Doubled During the COVID-19 Pandemic

November 7, 2023

Did you know that firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the US?

If we are going to try to tailor prevention and advocacy efforts, it is important to understand the trends of firearm injuries. Dr. Jennifer Hoffman at Lurie Children’s Hospital and colleagues from the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) Registry Study Group analyzed data from 9 pediatric emergency departments in an article entitled, “Pediatric Firearm Injury Emergency Department Visits from 2017-2022: A Multicenter Study,” which is being early released this week in Pediatrics (10.1542/peds.2023-063129).

The authors compared data about pediatric emergency department visits for firearm injuries from before the COVID-19 pandemic (January 2017-February 2020) and during the pandemic (March 2020-November 2022).

There were 1,904 pediatric emergency department visits for firearm injuries. Unfortunately, the rate of firearm injury visits and the rate of deaths due to firearms both doubled during the pandemic. These increases were seen in both males and females and were particularly high for 10–14-year-old youths, and for children and adolescents who were non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and/or had public insurance or lived in neighborhoods with few resources.

Although these data are only from pediatric emergency departments– and the authors acknowledge that the majority of pediatric firearm injuries are treated in adult emergency departments, these data are troubling. The authors make the point that multi-system approaches – everything from counseling on safe gun storage and use of gun locks to firearm legislation - will be needed if we are going to see any decrease in pediatric firearm injuries. The authors also note that, during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, states with stronger gun laws saw decreases in pediatric firearm injuries and deaths, while those with weaker gun laws saw increases in these tragedies.

Everyone who cares for children should take a look at this sobering article, as this is a problem that is not going away soon.

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