The recent mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado have spawned concern and discussion regarding gun safety in the US. Pediatric health care providers have been concerned about gun safety as far back as 1990. In fact, part of a well-child visit should include a conversation about gun safety. Last year in Florida, the state legislature passed a law forbidding clinicians from asking patients if they owned a gun. Fortunately, the law has been over turned but it is under appeal by the state of Florida and the NRA.
One third of all households in the US contain a firearm (Hemenway, 2011). According to Dr. O. Marion Burton at the AAP National Conference and Exhibition, children are safest from firearms in homes without guns but the risk of injury and death is reduced if guns are stored unloaded and locked. The ammunition should also be stored in a separate place. Another problem with gun accidents is that two thirds of accidental shootings occur in someone else’s home (Hemenway, 2011). One half of these accident victims are shot by a family member or friend (the National Violent Death Reporting System.) The NVDRS attempts to gather statistics but only 18 states are currently participating.The CDC states in 2010 that 15,578 young people under 20 years of age were treated in the ER for firearm related injuries. In 2009, 114 young people died from unintentional firearm related injuries. The good news is that gun related deaths have been decreasing since 1992 (Broughton, 2012). Health care providers know that talking to parents about gun safety is more important since the gun is usually owned by the parent. A journal article in Pediatrics, 2008, stated that physicians, who counseled parents on gun safety combined with gunlock distribution, were more effective in promoting the safer storage of guns. This can translate into saved lives.
Whether one is pro or con for the right to bear arms should not be a deciding factor in assessing a child’s safety. The fact is that guns are prevalent in our society. Americans have more private guns per capita, and particularly more handguns, than citizens of other developed countries. It is imperative that the firearm discussion occur to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths. Incorporating education on the use of proper gun storage and gun handling can save lives. The distribution of gun locks also facilitates gun safety. Being proactive is so much better than being reactive. After all, knowledge is power. Stay well.
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