Fort Worth, Texas,
09:25 AM

With 35 Patients Already, Doctor’s Fear 2021 is on Track for a Record Number of Child Shootings

Cook Children's Emergency Department Staff Share Their Experiences Treating Children and Teens with Gunshot Wounds
Interviews with Daniel Guzman, M.D., Celeste Calhoun, RN, and Jill Plunkett, RN

In Cook Children’s Emergency Department, treating gunshot victims requires all hands on deck. The moments are precious as staff work against the clock to save young lives. The goal? To rescue every child who comes through the sliding doors. The reality? Children with gunshot wounds are among those most likely to die from their injuries.

For emergency room physicians like Dan Guzman, M.D., caring for shooting victims is particularly bothersome because gunshot wounds are preventable. He fears he will see many shooting victims in the coming months as summer is typically a busy time for this type of injury.

“Kids are out of school, and parents are working,” he said. “Children will find a gun that’s not locked or hidden, and a matter of seconds can change a family’s life.”

As of May, 35 children have already been treated at Cook Children’s with gunshot wounds in 2021. Two died. Compare that to 2019 when 41 children were treated for gunshot wounds, including five deaths, and 2020, which totaled 47 patients and four deaths.

“We are five months into 2021 and are on track to exceed prior years,” Dr. Guzman said. “We haven’t reached the halfway point and we’ve already lost two patients.”

While most of the situations stemmed from unintentional gunshots, Dr. Guzman says all of the incidents could have been avoided.

“The vast majority of the kids that we see suffer from head and neck injuries. It's almost impossible to save a life because the damage has been done to the brain.” Dr. Guzman said.

Celeste Calhoun and Jill Plunkett are emergency room nurses with a combined 20+ years of experience. They both agree that seeing gunshot victims coming through the emergency department has happened more often than they’d care to see.

“Gunshots are preventable for children,” Calhoun said. “Children don't go out with an intent to harm each other. They usually obtain the gun because it was left open or out, and by playing with it. Not knowing that it's loaded or what it can do when they aim it at someone and squeeze the trigger.”

Plunkett says her husband was raised around police officers and guns, she and her husband made it a point to teach their two children about gun safety and education at a young age.

“We have guns in our home, they were never loaded and my children didn’t even know the code to the safe until they were adults. They knew the guns were in our home, and if they ever wanted to see them or had questions, my husband would take them out and educate them, but they were never accessible,” Plunkett explained.

Dr. Guzman agrees that education is key. He says he understands why parents may feel they need guns for the safety of their family, however, there is a safe way to have a weapon in the home - locked up.

“Let's put our guns away. For the safety of our children, let's make sure that we're making the right choices,” Dr. Guzman said. “If you can buy a safe, 100%, get a safe and put that gun away. This is not about who can have a gun or who shouldn't have a gun. The bottom line is our children’s safety.”

Dr. Guzman worries that recent state legislation coupled with a spike in gun sales nationwide could lead to more unintentional child shootings.

“Last year (2020) was a bad year, we saw more injuries than we’d seen in the last five years,” Dr. Guzman explained.

The plea is simple. If there are guns in your home, educate your children and make sure they are in a safe and secure place.

“We want to help people avoid having to be in our emergency department, to be safe at home, and live a long life without ever having to see us,” Dr. Guzman said.

Calhoun, who is also a mother, shares another piece of advice that is often forgotten by parents.

“Make sure you know where your child's going to visit and play,” Calhoun said. “If they're going to another home with another child, have that awkward conversation with the parents to find out if they have guns in their home and what safety precautions they take to protect their children.”

Lastly, Dr.Guzman says when educating families, it is important to note that handguns are not the only kind of gun that can injure a child.

“We hear about handguns and firearm accidents in the news,” Dr. Guzman said. “We can’t forget children are injured by BB guns and pellet guns too. I’ve seen children die from BB guns and pellet guns, so we have to be cognizant at all times.”

Aim for safety. Safe storage. Safe children. Safe play.

When we have firearms in our homes, we must take certain steps to protect our children from accidental shootings. Cook Children's Aim for Safety® initiative is designed to help reduce the number of injuries we see every year among children through gun safety education. This is not about whether guns are right or wrong. It's about taking the necessary steps to protect our children.

Step 1: Safe storage
  • 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 a backpack, briefcase, handbag, or unlocked car, provide them with a locked place to keep it when in your home.
Step 2: Safe children

If your child sees a gun, teach them to:

  • Stop.
  • Don't touch.
  • Run away.
  • Tell a grown up.
Step 3: Safe play
  • Ask the parents of your child's friends if they have guns in their homes and how they are being stored.
  • If you are asked about your guns, don't be offended.
  • Aim for Safety is for advocating gun safety and gun safety only.
  • This information is to aid gun owners in protecting not only their own children, but also those that enter their home.
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