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Firearms are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. Overall, fewer kids are dying from guns than in decades past. But worryingly, among children under age 5, firearm-related deaths have increased since 2004.
Researchers in New Zealand wanted to figure out why. They combined national U.S. data on family gun ownership and child gun-related deaths between 1976 and 2016. And they uncovered two striking gun ownership trends, which were published in Pediatrics:
- Fewer families with young children owned guns in 2016, compared to 40 years ago. In 1976, about half of white families had guns, and that dropped to 45 percent in 2016. The drop was even greater among African American families, whose rate of gun ownership went from 38 percent to 6 percent during that time.
- Handguns, such as pistols or revolvers, have increasingly become the firearm of choice among white, gun-owning families with young children. While only 25 percent of this particular demographic used to own a handgun, now almost 75 percent do. That's not the case for African American families, who own fewer handguns than in decades past.
What does all this mean?
The researchers compared gun-related death rates among white 1- to 5-year-olds with handgun ownership rates for white families. They concluded that for every 1 percent increase in handgun ownership among these families, gun-related mortality rates for young white children went up by almost half a percent.
In other words, more handguns correlated with more deaths among children ages 1 to 5.
The researchers said they didn't have enough data to draw conclusions about African American families.
This study doesn't prove that increased handgun ownership causes more child deaths, only that the two are associated. Also, we don't know whether the firearm deaths were intentional or accidental.
However, the authors said handguns pose a greater danger to young children than long guns such as hunting rifles because:
- Handguns are smaller and easier for young children to use. Even 2-year-olds have the strength to pull a handgun trigger.
- People are more likely to store handguns improperly because they intend to use them for self-defense. This means they may put handguns in an easily accessible place, such as a bedroom drawer, and keep them loaded.
The most reliable way to keep your kids safe from gun injury, fatal or otherwise, is the absence of guns in your home and community, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you choose to keep guns in your home, keep them locked away and unloaded in a location out of reach of children, with ammunition locked in a separate place. Use gun locks for added safety.
Also, before your child plays at a friend's house, ask if there are any guns in the home.
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