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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
April 2015

Keeping Children and Adolescents Safe From Firearms

JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(4):412. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.2122

Firearm-related deaths continue to be one of the top 3 causes of death among US children and adolescents.

Of all injury deaths of youths 15 to 19 years of age in the United States in 2009, more than 1 in 4 were related to firearms (28.7%). Firearm-related deaths are associated with unintentional shootings, suicides, and homicides.

Unintentional shootings typically happen when a child or adolescent shoots a gun and kills another person, usually a friend or sibling. The risk of adolescent suicide is strongly associated with the availability of a firearm and is particularly high if the firearm is kept loaded. Laws that require the safe storage of firearms are associated with lower rates of adolescent suicide. In 2009, more than 80% of all homicides of youths 15 to 19 years of age were firearm-related homicides. Most homicides occur during interpersonal conflict, typically between relatives, friends, or acquaintances.

How to Prevent Firearm-Related Injuries of Children

  1. If you have a gun in your home, store it safely. A number of options exist, including trigger locks, lockboxes, and gun safes. These devices still allow guns to be available for home protection. Storing ammunition separately from the firearm is also important. Research studies have found that storing guns safely can lower the risk of firearm-related injury and death by approximately 70%. “Hiding” guns from children does not work.

  2. If there is a depressed person in the home, it may be appropriate to remove the guns from the home, at least for a period of time.

  3. Gun safety programs are designed to educate children and adolescents about how to be safe around firearms; however, research studies have found that these programs do not prevent risk behaviors and may even increase the chances of the handling of firearms among children and adolescents.

  4. Reduce the level of exposure to violence for children and adolescents:

    • Children who live in homes where violence is taking place are more likely to act out violently themselves. Providing a safe home environment is key to preventing a cycle of violence for children and adolescents.

    • Seeing violence in the media, such as in movies and television, can lead children and adolescents to imitate violent acts or to believe that violence is normal. Limiting their exposure to violent media is an important prevention measure for parents.

  5. Programs that teach children and adolescents to work out problems without violence have had positive results. However, the programs need to be designed specifically to a child’s or adolescent’s age and situation to be effective.

Many families struggle to figure out the best way to protect their children from firearm-related injury and death; no family wants to believe this can happen to them. However, firearms are one of the main causes of death among US children and teens. If you and your family are struggling to negotiate the safe storage of a firearm or trying to figure out how to limit your children’s exposure to violence in the media, then you can talk to your pediatrician for support and guidance.

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The JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Pediatrics. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child’s medical condition, JAMA Pediatrics suggests that you consult your child’s physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.

Resource: From the American Academy of Pediatrics: Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population: Policy Statement

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