Firearm Violence and Children
Firearm violence is a public health issue. It occurs for many reasons – anger, fear, despair, impulsivity, revenge, intimate partner violence, crime. In 2020, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens aged 1-19 (read full study here).
The Toll of Firearm Violence on Children in the U.S.
Children are experiencing firearm injuries and death at an unacceptable rate. Firearms injuries also cause long-term physical and mental health consequences.
- In 2021, firearms were involved in the deaths of 4,733 children ages 1-19. In comparison, 4,486 children and teens died due to injuries in motor vehicle crashes.
- Child firearm mortality rate has doubled in the U.S. from 1.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 to 3.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2021.
- About one third of American children live in homes with firearms and 4.6 million children live in homes in which at least one firearm is stored loaded and unlocked.
- Suicide attempts involving a firearm are more often fatal (91%) compared with those involving drug overdoses (23%).
- Over 80% of child firearm suicides involved a gun belonging to a family member.
What Pediatricians Can Do
Firearm Anticipatory Guidance and Education
There are things that pediatricians can do during visits with children and families to help address gun violence. The AAP outlines some of these:
- Ask if there are guns in the home.
- Provide anticipatory guidance: Normalize and personalize conversations regarding safer firearm storage, including “smart” gun safety technology, or removal of firearms from the home.
- Perform age-appropriate, evidence-based mental health screening for depression and suicide risk to identify youth at risk for self-harm or for harming others.
- Talk to families with toddlers and older children about the prevention of an unintentional shooting event. Talk to families with adolescents and young adults about suicide prevention and acknowledge teenagers who do not have a known history of depression or suicidal ideation can also attempt suicide.
- Make sure your clinic is a place where firearms are restricted.
- Encourage families to ask about firearms where their children play.
Take Action and Advocate
Pediatricians can be a strong voice for policies that support gun violence prevention, gun safety and safe storage, and more. Make your voice heard and actively support gun violence prevention. The AAP has put together resources on advocacy around:
- Hospital and Community-level Interventions
- Consumer Product Regulations
- Safe Storage
- Gun Violence & Communities of Color
- Federal Gun Violence Prevention Research
- Contacting Congress
- Media Advocacy Tools
- Gun Safety Campaign Toolkit and Other
Social Media Tools
- Join the Firearm Injury Prevention Special Interest Group
Laws and Groups Working on Gun Safety
Some important laws exist in Illinois to restrict access to illegal guns and support evidence-based methods for reducing gun violence, but there is work to be done.
Everytown is the largest gun violence prevention organization in America.
Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. Moms Demand Action works in communities throughout the country and has a chapter in every state.
When a Shooting Has Occurred
Each week we learn of multiple victims of gun violence in Illinois – many are children and teens. An infant riding in their car seat, a school aged child at a birthday party, a teenager at a park with friends. Illinois pediatricians will be called on to offer support to the victims and their families impacted after a shooting, immediately and for the weeks, months, and even years ahead.
Victims who are physically injured and those children who were bystanders to a shooting will need support. Fellow healthcare providers helping victims and their families may also be in need of support.