As Americans continue to arm themselves, a new study finds a frightening—but not surprising—effect on children. More and more die each year from gunshot wounds, many times accidentally when they play with weapons they find in their home. And, not coincidentally, states with higher gun ownership rates have higher gunshot wound rates for children.
Some 500 children died and more than 7,700 others were wounded in 2009, the last year researched by study authors Dr. Arin L. Madenci, a surgical resident at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Christopher Weldon, a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital. They presented their findings Sunday at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Orlando, Fla.
Madenci told Discovery News that he was surprised by one of the findings: Most of the shootings involved handguns, not assault weapons. Though given the prevalence of handguns in American homes, it stands to reason that they would account for most of the killings.
“Based on our research, we know that there is a clear correlation between household gun ownership (and gun safety practices) and childhood gunshot wounds in the home on a large-scale,” Madenci said in an e-mail to Discovery News.
Madenci said he didn’t have enough data to determine whether guns in specific homes were responsible for these deaths or injuries, but said it is something they plan to answer in future studies. He said he decided to look at the question of gun ownership and childhood gun deaths after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. One expert says the study should not come as a big surprise.
“It’s consistent with general theory which is that greater exposure leads to greater risk,” said Daniel Webster, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
But the rise in gun deaths should be a shock, from 4,270 wounded and 317 killed in 1997, to 7,730 wounded and 503 killed in 2009, the last year for which data was available.
That’s a pace of more than 1.4 children killed and 21 wounded every day.
Eight of every 10 firearm wounds were inflicted by handguns, according to hospital records reviewed by the doctors. They say the national conversation about guns should shift toward the danger posed by smaller weapons, not the recent fights over limiting the availability of military-style, semi-automatic rifles.
“Handguns account for the majority of childhood gunshot wounds and this number appears to be increasing over the last decade,” said Dr. Arin L. Madenci, a surgical resident at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the study’s two authors. “Furthermore, states with higher percentages of household firearm ownership also tended to have higher proportions of childhood gunshot wounds, especially those occurring in the home.”
Among homes with children, rates of gun possession ranged from 10 percent in New Jersey, for instance, to 62 percent in Montana, the researchers found.