Injuries from firearms send an estimated 7,000 kids to the ER every year, and an additional 3,000 children die from gunshot wounds before they can get to a hospital, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. Doctors are pointing to the new data as further evidence of the serious public health toll that gun violence takes on America’s youth.
The new study drilled down some of the data from a 2009 survey of kids’ pediatric stays. That year, the majority of kids’ gunshot injuries — 4,559 — resulted from intentional assaults with a firearm. An additional 2,149 were accidents, and 270 were suicide attempts. About six percent of the children who made it to the ER ended up dying in the hospital from their injuries, which are typically open wounds, fractures, or brain or spinal injuries.
“This study reinforces what we know from the mortality data,” Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told NBC News. “We have an extraordinary health burden in our youth associated with firearms injuries.”
Webster pointed out that the United States’ rate of mortality from firearms is about ten times higher than the rates in other wealthy nations. “This is a very unique and abnormal problem that such a wealthy nation should have such high mortality and morbidity in youth related to firearms,” he noted.
The number of kids being killed by guns in the U.S. has been steadily rising over the past several decades, and the issue has captured headlines as the number of school shootings has intensified. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that firearms are one of the top three causes of death among children, killing twice as many kids as cancer does. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, which killed 20 young children, the AAP has stepped up its efforts to lobby for gun violence prevention.
“America’s pediatricians remain undeterred and united in our desire to see significant policy change to address this public health crisis,” the AAP wrote in a statement released on the one-year anniversary of Sandy Hook.
There are some concrete policy solutions that could help address this issue. Webster suggests raising the legal age to purchase a handgun to 21, since research has demonstrated that there’s a peak in gun violence among youth between the ages of 18 and 20. The AAP has also pushed for expanded background checks and safe storage to ensure that guns aren’t falling into the wrong hands. And more states could move to make adults criminally liable for allowing kids to have access to guns.