Study: 1,300 children die by gun every year in the U.S.

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An average of 19 children are shot by firearms every day in the United States, according to a new public health study that culled several national databases to tally deaths from 2012 to 2014.

The unusually detailed look offers some good news about firearms injuries – such as a steady decline in accidental shooting deaths – but also finds that the U.S. accounts for more than nine of every 10 firearm deaths among children under 14 in high-income countries worldwide.

Firearms are the No. 2 cause of accidental death among American children, wounding or killing more than 7,000 children nationwide. The No. 1 cause is car crashes.

“It’s a very comprehensive report,” said Dr. David Wesson, Texas Children’s Hospital‘s associate surgeon-in-chief for academic affairs. “It’s got information about pretty much all types of firearms-related injuries; it also has information about nonfatal firearms injuries.”

For Wesson, who was not involved in the study that was published in this month’s medical journal, Pediatrics, the data offers insights that can help prevent such injuries, which are often so severe in children’s small bodies that trauma surgeons like him can’t save the victims.

“If you have a gunshot wound to the head … there’s really not much we can do,” he said. “So injury prevention is something I think about a lot.”

On average, 1,297 children died from a firearm-related injury each year from 2012 to 2014, the study reports. A little more 50 percent were homicides, about 40 percent were suicides and 6 percent were unintentional. Nearly 6,000 children per year were wounded but survived.

Intentional deaths down

The authors – four researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control or Prevention and one University of Texas at Austin sociologist – report some good news: Intentional shooting deaths have become steadily less common since a peak in 2007, when 1.4 children out of every 100,000 died in shooting homicides each year. That rate declined by 36 percent to 0.9 children per 100,000 in 2014.

Eleven states in the South and Midwest had significantly higher rates of child shooting homicides. The two highest were Louisiana and Illinois. Chicago especially has suffered from frequent shootings in recent years.

Children younger than 13 who died by firearm homicide usually were killed during conflict between family members or a relative’s romantic partner, according to the CDC.

“This highlights how children can be caught in the crossfire in cases of domestic violence and points to the importance of addressing the intersection of these forms of violence,” said Dr. Katherine Fowler, a lead researcher for the study.

Growing suicide rates

Data drawn from three national reporting systems revealed that, while children generally have lower suicide rates than other age groups, “Some of the steepest increases from 1999 to 2014 have been found among children 10 to 14 years of age,” according to the study.

Since 2007 alone, firearm suicides among children ages 10 to 17 have increased by 60 percent, Fowler added in an email. Suicide rates were highest in a few large, rural states: Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Detailed analysis found that the most common circumstances for a child or teen’s suicide included a crisis, a relationship problem or an issue with a romantic partner.

The study also found that more than a quarter of children who took their own lives had told someone about their intent before doing it, suggesting more lives might be saved by interventions.

The researchers found an average of 82 unintentional shooting deaths per year from 2012 to 2014 – though the real number may be much higher, according to research by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. The majority of those accidents happened while children were playing with guns or showing them to other kids, the study said.

“Previous research shows that children are curious about firearms and will touch a firearm even when instructed not to do so, which points to the importance of adult supervision and the need to store firearms safely and out of the reach of children,” the authors wrote.

Keeping children safe

For parents who want a gun handy for self-protection, safety instructors suggest keeping one gun nearby in a fingerprint-activated safe and locking the rest in a complex gun safe.

A simple gun lock – a cable that runs through the chamber and magazine – costs less than $20. A trigger lock is about $10.

Wesson said the study also provides new levels of detail about nonfatal shootings, which get much less attention.

Researchers found an average of 5,790 U.S. children survived gunshot wounds each year, based on data from emergency-department reporting databases and elsewhere. Out of every 100 injuries, about 70 were assaults, 20 were accidents and three were intentionally self-inflicted.

Houston’s new police chief, Art Acevedo, has instructed his department’s detectives to investigate such nonfatal shootings as if they were homicides, in an effort to catch violent offenders before they kill someone.

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