Locking up 20% of household guns could save 135 kids a year: study

Intervention and a “lock all firearms” discussion could substantially reduce the number of kids who die from firearm injuries, according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The authors of the study looked into the connections between safe household firearm storage and accidental death among children in the U.S. The research, collected between August 2017 and January 2018, examined U.S. census data to see whether there was any reduction in youth deaths by firearms after policy interventions began in 2015.

According to the report, between 6% and 32% of deaths examined in the data could have been preventable given safer gun storage.

Looking at the background, in 2015, 13 million U.S. households with children also had firearms. In that same year, 14,000 of these youth were treated for nonfatal firearm injuries, with another 2,800 were reported dead by gunfire. And previous statistics show 9 of 10 youth suicides get the firearms for the suicide from within the home. Therefore, previous reports prove the presence of a gun in the home substantially increases the risk of suicide or accidental death for children.

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In addition, against recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, only 3 in 10 households with children report storing guns unloaded and locked up.

Researchers found that if just 20% of households storing unlocked guns began to lock them, it would prevent between 72 and 135 firearm fatalities and between 235 and 323 firearm injuries a year.

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The researchers acknowledge certain limitations, because the study relied on estimates from more than 15 years ago. However, the authors believe there is no reason to think the passage of time would have changed the circumstances around the rates of firearm deaths. 

The authors also could not determine whether locking up 20% of guns would reduce the suicide rates, although prior data have suggested a correlation between the availability of firearms in the household and suicide.

Existing interventions such as pediatrician counseling and legislative initiates thus far have not made a measurable impact. The findings suggest that a more straightforward recommendation to lock up firearms would create a meaningful reduction in suicide and accidental firearm deaths among youth.

The study comes as the healthcare profession has taken an increased public health interest in the issue of prevention of injuries from firearms and violence. 

They have faced some pushback from gun industry lobbyists and policymakers. For example, in 2018 Kaiser Permanente made a $2 million investment in academic research into children and firearm safety.

Last year, the National Rifle Association told doctors to stay out of their business when it comes to talking about guns. But the medical field fired back, such as in an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and demonstrated the industry’s commitment to advocate for policies related to public health.