The U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health finds that over half of parents who don't own a gun have never talked with their children about gun safety.
What are the statistics about young people and firearm deaths and injuries?
The 2002 edition of Injury Facts from the National Safety Council reports the following statistics  :
- In 1999, 3,385 children and youth ages 0-19 years were killed with a gun. This includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries.
- This is equivalent to about 9 deaths per day, a figure commonly used by journalists.
- The 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:
- 214 unintentional
- 1,078 suicides
- 1,990 homicides
- 83 for which the intent could not be determined
- 20 due to legal intervention
- Of the total firearms-related deaths:
- 73 were of children under five years old
- 416 were children 5-14 years old
- 2,896 were 15-19 years old
For more information: Child Trends DataBank has available these teen homicide, suicide and firearm death statistics.
In addition to firearm deaths, we need to look at how many children and young people are hurt by guns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 1997, 2,514 children aged 0-14 were non-fatally injured by guns. In the same year, 30,225 young people aged 15-24 sustained nonfatal firearm injuries. These statistics include suicide attempts and both intentional and accidental shootings .
According to the CDC, the rate of firearm deaths among children under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. American children are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die in a firearm accident than children in these other countries .
What do we know about kids and gun accidents and suicides?
When researchers studied the 30,000 accidental gun deaths of Americans of all ages that occurred between 1979-1997, they found that preschoolers aged 0-4 were 17 times more likely to die from a gun accident in the 4 states with the most guns versus the 4 states with the least guns. Likewise, school kids aged 5-14 were over 13 times more at risk of accidental firearm death in the states with high gun ownership rates. The findings indicate that gun availability is associated with accidental death by shooting .
Where and how safely do families with kids store their guns?
More than a third (35%) of homes with children—that's 22 million children ages 18 and under in more than 11 million homes—had at least one firearm, found researchers in a RAND-UCLA study . But only 39% of these families keep their firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 43% of these U.S. homes with children and guns reported keeping one or more firearms in an unlocked place and without a trigger lock. Nine percent keep their guns loaded as well as unlocked. This analysis is based on data from 1994 interviews conducted in tens of thousands of households by the National Center for Health Statistics. (See Guns in the Family: Firearm Storage Patterns in U.S. Homes with Children for a fuller report.)
Before your child goes to a friend's house, you should ask the friend's parent whether the family has firearms in the house, and how they are stored. This can be part of all the usual things you would discuss before a visit, like allergies, snacks, sunscreen, etc.
For more information on asking these kinds of questions, visit the Asking Saves Kids (ASK) website sponsored by the non-political PAX organization in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
What are the risks for teens?
Parents of teenagers are less likely to store firearms safely . This is a big concern, since most firearm injuries happen to teens. Teens are at greater risk of attempting suicide, and a suicide attempt with a gun is likely to be deadly. More than 90% of suicide attempts with a gun are deadly, and teens in homes with firearms are at higher risk for committing suicide [8}.
Are my children at risk if I own a gun?
This is a controversial subject. Many people feel safer when they have a gun at hand. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)* has reviewed the current medical research on the subject and concluded that if you have children, it is safer not to have a gun in your home (see the AAP policy statement for more details).
What if I've taught my kids not to touch a gun if they find one?
A number of studies , , , , suggest that even kids who are trained not to touch guns can't resist, and that parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids' behavior around guns. That's why parents are encouraged to keep guns unloaded and locked separately from ammunition , and to ask about guns at the houses where their children play. Here are links to the full text or abstracts of the studies:
- What do boys do when they find a real gun?
- "They're Too Smart for That": Predicting What Children Would Do in the Presence of Guns
- Teaching firearm safety to children: Failure of a program
- A firearm safety program for children: They just can't say no
For more information on asking other parents these kinds of questions, visit the Asking Saves Kids (ASK) website sponsored by the non-political PAX organization in cooperation with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
How can I keep my child safe from gun injury?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way to keep your child or teen safe from gun injury or death, is to never have a gun in your home, especially not a handgun.
For those who know the dangers of guns, but still keep a gun in the home, each of the following four measures helps protect children and teens from accidental firearm injury and suicide :
- Keep the gun locked
- Keep the gun unloaded
- Store the ammunition locked
- Store the ammunition in a separate place from the gun
Other safety measures are:
- Hide the keys to the locked firearm and ammunition storage boxes.
- If your friends or family keep a firearm, urge them to keep it locked and unloaded.
- Only parents should know the location of the gun storage.
- Check with your local police for advice about safe storage and gun locks.
- When handling or cleaning a gun, never leave it unattended, not even for a moment.
- Teach your children never to touch guns. Make sure they know that guns can be dangerous.
- Talk with your kids about the risk of firearm injury outside the home, in places they may visit or play.
- Do you know which of your children's friends have guns in their homes? Your child might—and might even know where they are kept.
- Talk with your children about guns and violence and about the differences between TV and video game violence and real life violence.
- Simple steps parents can take to reduce children's risks from guns (from the AAP)
- Listen to AAP Health Children Radio: Firearm Safety.
What can communities do?
The AAP has released a policy statement on Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population. Here is a summary of their recommendations:
- The best way to prevent firearm-related injuries to children and teens is to keep guns out of homes and communities.
- The AAP urges that guns be subject to safety and design regulations, like other consumer products, as well as tracing.
- The AAP urges the development of quality, violence-free programming and constructive dialogue among child health and education advocates, the Federal Communications Commission, and the television and motion picture industries, as well as toy, video game, and other software manufactures and designers—in hopes this would reduce the romanticizing of guns in the media.
- The AAP supports evaluating firearm injury prevention and intervention strategies such as conflict resolution, alternatives to violence, storage techniques (like trigger locks, lock boxes, and gun safes), and educational programs for kids and teens.
- The AAP urges that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the National Center for Health Statistics keep a coordinated, comprehensive, national surveillance data system.
- Non-powder guns such as ball-bearing (BB) guns, pellet guns, air rifles, and paintball guns can cause serious injuries to children and teens .
- Playing with toy guns could make it easier for your child to mistake a real gun as a toy.
- Pellet and BB guns are high powered and can easily hurt your child. BB guns can also kill. They should be used only under adult supervision. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends only kids 16 years of age or older use BB guns.
- Parents may underestimate the potential for injury from BB and pellet guns, unless their child has been wounded by one .
- Police officers may mistake a toy gun in your child's hand for a real gun. Toy guns should not look like real guns. They should be brightly colored.
- Make sure the firing sound is not too loud. It could damage your child's hearing. Children should wear hearing protection. Don't let kids fire cap guns closer than one foot from their ears, and only use them outdoors.
- Toy guns with projectiles, Airsoft guns and paintball guns can cause eye injuries, including severe and permanent vision loss   . Kids should wear eye protection when using them.
- Don't let kids put caps from toy guns in their pockets. They can ignite and cause burn injuries.
- Read the AAP's policy statement on the injury risk of nonpowder guns.
- Gun Safety (for parents) covers these topics: what kids know about guns; talking to your child about guns; and safety if you have a gun in your home.
- Gun Safety (for kids) talks about gun safety at home, at friends' and neighbors' houses, and at school.
- For teens: Someone at School Has a Weapon. What Should I Do? (You can call 1-800-SPEAK-UP to leave an anonymous tip if there's been a weapons threat at your school.)
- Firearm Safety in Your Home offers comprehensive advice from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
- Video: Firearms Safety Depends on You is a National Shooting Sports Foundation-developed program that provides a thorough overview of firearm safety.
Related topics on YourChild:
- PAX: Real Solutions to Gun Violence is the largest non-political organization dedicated to ending the gun violence crisis in America. PAX's mission is to look at gun violence as an urgent public health crisis with practical solutions that all Americans can embrace. They conduct two campaigns:
- The ASK Campaign (Asking Saves Kids) is based on the fact that many families with children have a gun, and almost half these guns are left unlocked or loaded. ASK aims to get parents nationwide to ask about guns where their children play. ASK simply urges parents to ask their neighbors if they have a gun in the home before sending their children over to play. It is a comprehensive national public health campaign, developed by PAX, in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- The Speak Up Campaign helps students prevent school shootings through 1-866-SPEAK-UP, the nation's only anonymous hotline for kids to report weapon threats in their schools. SPEAK UP works with students, educators and parents in lots of ways to bring the SPEAK UP message to their schools and towns.
*The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information on the AAP, please visit www.aap.org.
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan.
Updated November 2010