Program Aims to Protect Children from Accidental Shootings
As Handguns in U.S. Households Increase, So Does Child Firearm-Related Deaths
Daniel Guzman, M.D., will never forget the spring break of 2017 when he and the rest of the Cook Children’s Emergency Department saw 5 unintentional gun injuries.
“That week highlighted my concern for gun awareness and safety,” Dr. Guzman said. “In one case, the handgun didn’t belong to the family of the injured child. I remember thinking, ‘What can be done about this?’”
Last year, he began the new “Aim for Safety” program at Cook Children’s. The program is a multi-step interactive experience that provides parental awareness and teaches children the steps they should take when they encounter a firearm.
“I think most people think this ‘won’t happen to us’ because we’ve taught our kids to never touch guns,” Dr. Guzman said. “But if you aren’t taking the proper precautions as the adult and parent, it’s probably only a matter of when, not if, your life may be affected by an unintentional discharge involving someone you know, and maybe even your own child.”
Firearm-related fatalities are a top 3 cause of death among children in the United States.
A new article published today in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, looked at changes in firearm ownership among families with young children from 1976 to 2016. And while there has been a decline in firearm ownership over the past 40 years, the firearm-related mortality rates among young children has risen over the past decade.
The authors of the study linked the increase in firearm-related mortality among young children to the types of guns in families’ homes.
In white American households, handguns increased from 49 percent of the total guns owned in 1976 to 72 percent in 2016. Over the past decade, child deaths from firearms have doubled from 0.36 per 100,000 children ages 1 to 4 to 0.63 per 100,000.
“For example, smaller firearms, such as handguns, are easier for young children to handle, given evidence suggesting that children as young as 2 possess the tensile strength to operate a handgun,” the authors wrote.
The data collected came as no surprise to Dr. Guzman.
“One out of every three homes with children in the U.S. has a gun, but sadly the vast majority of these guns are kept unlocked and loaded,” Dr. Guzman said. “Many of these firearms are within reach of a child whose parents believe the child doesn’t know about the weapon or is unable to reach the firearm.”
In Texas, 36 percent of adults have a household firearm and more than 199,000 children currently live with unlocked, loaded firearms in their home.
“Tarrant County has the second highest registered license to carry holders in Texas, second only to Harris County,” Dr. Guzman said. “The potential for injury to a child you may know has grown exponentially, as the number of firearms sold in Texas has skyrocketed."
As a gun owner himself, Dr. Guzman asks you to take the same steps he does to protect children:
- Store firearms unloaded and in locked locations, out of reach of children.
- Use trigger locks and gun boxes.
- Secure ammunition separately.
- Hide gun safe and trigger lock keys.
- Keep unlocked guns in your possession.
- Make sure all guns are equipped with effective, child resistant gun locks.
- If a visitor has a gun in backpack, briefcase, handbag, or unlocked car, provide them with a locked place to keep it while they are in your home.
An important aspect of the Aim for Safety program is telling children what they should do if they come across a gun. If your child sees a gun, teach them to:
- Don’t touch
- Run away
- Tell a grown up
Dr. Guzman said, because of children’s natural curiosity, they are at the greatest risk of unintentional deaths, injuries and even suicides in the teen population. Because of this, much of the emphasis of the Aim for Safety program is for the adults to take responsibility for a child’s safety.
While it’s a life-saving approach to secure your own guns and to talk to children about what to do if they see a gun, Dr. Guzman said many parents are uncomfortable to talk to other families about this issue.
Before your child’s next visit to a friend, Dr. Guzman advices you ask the parents of your child’s friends if they have guns in their homes and how they are being stored.
“Do you know where your children go to play,” Dr. Guzman said. “Would you ask the parents of your children’s friends if they have guns in their home and if they are secured? Most parents don’t ask those questions, even though they could mean the difference between life and death.”
When firearms are in your house, we must take certain steps protect our children from accidental shootings.
This is not about whether guns are right or wrong. It's about protecting our children.
"It won't happen to us" is a common theme among children and accidental injuries such as gun shootings.
However, the numbers tell a different story. In 2017, there were at least 26 children ages 0-11 in the state of Texas alone that were accidentally killed because a gun was not safely locked away.
One out of every three homes with children in the U.S. has a gun. In Texas, 36% of adults have a household firearm, and over 199,000 children currently live with unlocked loaded firearms in their home.
We encourage you to take the following steps to protect your child from being a part of an accidental shooting.