Half as Many U.S. Children Die from Firearm Injuries Where Gun Laws Are Strictest

New research shows dramatic differences in the number of children hospitalized and killed each year in the U.S. from firearm-related injuries based on their states’ gun legislation, even after adjusting for poverty, unemployment, and education rates. It found twice as many pediatric firearm deaths in states with the most lenient gun regulations compared with states where gun laws are strictest.

Researchers will present an abstract of their study, “Strict Firearm Legislation Is Associated with Lower Firearm-Related Fatalities among Children and Teens in the United States,” at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition. Study authors examined pediatric injury-related deaths and mortality rates derived from the National Vital Statistics System maintained by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics and then compared regional injury with the Brady Campaign scorecard, which rates gun law stringency by state.

Beyond lower pediatric firearm-related mortality within individual states, the study researchers found that stringency of a neighboring state’s firearm legislation was also associated with pediatric firearm mortality rates. The researchers also found that firearm laws specific to child access prevention (CAP), including locking mechanisms or storage requirements, were associated with decreased firearm suicide rates among children. States without CAP laws had pediatric firearm suicide rates more than four times as high as those with CAP laws.

“Firearm-related injuries are the second leading cause of death among children in the United States, but we found a clear discrepancy in where those deaths happen that corresponds with the strength of states’ firearm legislation,” said Stephanie Chao, MD, FAAP, FACS the abstract’s lead author. “In states with lenient laws, children die at alarmingly greater rates.”

The same researchers will also be presenting findings from a related study they performed, “U.S. Regional Trends in Pediatric Firearm-Related Injuries.” In this study, analysis showed regions with high average Brady scores (Northeast and West) were associated with 7.54 injuries per 100,000 children, while rates in low Brady scores regions (Midwest and South) had 8.30 injuries per 100,000 children.

“Each year, more children die from firearm-related injuries than from cancer and heart disease combined,” said Dr. Chao, Trauma Medical Director and Assistant Professor of Pediatric Surgery at Stanford School of Medicine. “However, each and every one of these deaths is preventable. Our study demonstrates that state-level legislation prevents children from dying from guns.”

Dr. Chao and co-author Jordan Taylor, MD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Pediatric Surgery at Stanford, said a better understanding of regional differences in pediatric patterns of firearm-related injuries, compared with existing firearm legislation, can better inform each region’s targeted prevention efforts.

“While federal legislation on firearms remains a contentious and gridlocked issue,” Dr. Chao said, “we found that state legislation may be an opportunity to prevent pediatric deaths from firearms.”

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