2021 is on pace to be America’s deadliest year of gun violence in the last two decades. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed this year alone, according to CBS News.
With an increase in gun violence comes an increase in child and teen shooting victims.
According to TIME, experts attribute the rise in violence to pandemic-related school closures and unemployment. Strains in emotional and mental health have led to poor conflict resolution, and with millions of children at home, there is easier access to firearms, says Dr. Regan Williams, the trauma Medical Director at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis
Le Bonheur admitted 134 shooting victims in 2020, compared with 89 in 2019. By the end of August 2021, there had been 102 admissions, topping an all-time high the hospital had recorded for the same time period in 2020.
Gunshot injuries at pediatric trauma centers spiked 50% across Houston and 300% in Hartford, Conn. In Fort Worth, more than 41 children have been treated for gunshot wounds at the Cook Children’s emergency department so far this year, compared with 47 in all of 2020 and 41 the entire year before.
The reality is that having firearms in the home increases the risk of unintentional shootings, suicide, and homicide.
According to healthychildren.org, in 2020, there were at least 369 unintended shootings by children in the United States. These shootings caused 142 deaths and 242 injuries.
In the past decade, 40% of the suicides committed by kids and teens involved guns. Nine out of 10 of these suicides were with guns that the victims accessed at their own homes or from a relative’s home.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that the safest home for a child is one without guns.
If you decide to keep guns in the home, be aware that many studies show that teaching kids about gun safety, or to not touch a firearm if they find one, is not enough. You can reduce the chances of children being injured, however, by following important safety rules:
- Safe storage. All guns in your home should be locked and unloaded, with ammunition locked separately. Make sure children and teens can’t access the keys or combinations to lock boxes or gun safes. And remember not to keep loaded, unlocked guns in the car, or anywhere else on your property, either.
- Safe use. When using a gun for hunting or target practice, keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it. Before setting the gun down, always unload it. As much as a child may want to take a turn shooting, this is not a good idea. No matter how much instruction you may give about how to safely shoot a gun, children are not capable or responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon.
More than a third of all unintentional shootings of children take place in the homes of their friends, neighbors, or relatives. That’s why it is also important to make sure your kids are safe when they spend time where other people live.
Here’s how to help ensure your children and their playmates do not come across an unsecured gun while they play:
- Add this question to your playdate checklist. Even if you don’t have guns in your own home, ask about guns and safe storage at the other homes they visit. Just as you’d ask about pets, allergies, supervision and other safety issues before your child visits another home, add one more important question: “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” If there is, reconsider allowing your child to play there or talk to them about keeping the guns unloaded and locked.
- Talk to your children. Remind your kids that if they ever come across a gun, they must stay away from it and tell you immediately.
- Is There an Unlocked Gun Where Your Child Plays?
- Where We Stand: Gun Safety
- 10 Things Parents Can Do to Prevent Suicide
- Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population (AAP Policy Statement)