STUDY: Of All The Injuries That Land Kids In The ER, Gunshot Wounds Do The Most Damage

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Guns are a leading cause of death among U.S. children, and the number of kids getting killed by bullets has been on the rise over the past three decades. But the toll that gun violence takes on kids’ health goes far beyond those high fatality rates, according to a new study. Even when children survive being shot, bullet wounds tend to cause the most serious types of injuries on their bodies, requiring complicated and costly types of surgery.

Researchers analyzed hospital data collected over the course of three years in several urban areas. They found that gunshot wounds contributed to the highest proportion of serious injuries (23 percent), major surgeries (32 percent), and deaths in hospitals (8 percent). Altogether, gunshot wounds were associated with 21 percent of all deaths among kids who landed in the ER after sustaining a serious injury.

And because the wounds caused by bullets are more likely to require specialized treatment, the emergency care for kids’ gunshot wounds typically costs more than $28,500 — much higher than the costs associated with any other type of injury. Injuries resulting from car accidents were the next most expensive, averaging a little more than $15,500.

According to the study’s lead author, physician Craig Newgard, the results provide “a broader look” at the negative public health effects of gun violence that often go overlooked.

“If we focus on just fatalities, we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Newgard, who directs the Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University, explained to USA Today. “In every metric that we looked at, the front-runner far and away for worst outcome and greatest impact was gunshot-related injuries.”

Last year’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which killed nearly two dozen kindergartners, brought the issue of gun violence and children back to the forefront. But policy solutions to the problem have faltered, and thousands of Americans have gone on to be killed by guns since the Sandy Hook tragedy. Very young children are often accidentally shot by other children with firearms kept in their homes.

Medical advances have ensured that fewer Americans are dying from bullet wounds. But, since gun violence has actually been on the rise, that means more people are surviving after receiving treatment for serious gun-related injuries. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control, treating wounds resulting from gun injuries costs Americans an estimated $5.6 billion in medical bills each year.