Firearms and adolescence
Adolescents and firearms can be a volatile mix. Firearms are often portrayed on television and in movies as glamorous. In addition, the consequence of firing a firearm may not be portrayed as seriously in the media, because children often see the "shot" actors alive in other movies. Toy guns may add to a child's perception that real guns, like toy guns, are harmless and fun. It is important that your child knows the difference between a real gun and a toy gun. Driven by curiosity and impulse, access to firearms can have tragic results among the adolescent population.
Although the only sure way to keep your child safe from unintentional firearm-related injury and death in your home is to remove all firearms from the home, there are other ways to improve the safety of your child around firearms.
How can I keep my adolescent safe from firearms?
It is estimated that 40 percent of all homes in the US have some type of firearm, of which one in four is a handgun. Access to firearms in the home increases the risk of unintentional firearm-related death and injury among children. In addition, firearms are often portrayed on television and in movies as glamorous.
To keep your adolescent safe from firearms, consider whether it is worth the risk to keep a firearm in your home. If you do choose to keep a firearm, safely store the firearm locked up and out of reach, and keep ammunition in a separate, locked place from the actual firearm. Also, talk with your adolescent about the dangers of firearms.
Awareness of situations that can increase your child's risk of exposure to unintentional firearms injuries may help prevent them. High-risk situations include, but are not limited to, the following:
- accessible firearms in the home -- Parents often underestimate their child's ability to gain access to the firearm in the house, or even the child's ability to pull the trigger. Statistics show that up to 80 percent of first and second graders, who live in a home with a firearm, know where the firearm is kept. In addition, children as young as 3 may be strong enough to pull the trigger of a firearm.
- accessible firearms at another home -- Even if your home does not contain a firearm, your neighbor, friend, or relative may have an accessible firearm in the house.
- adolescent boys -- The majority of children, ages 14 and under, killed unintentionally by a firearm, are boys (85 percent). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers homes with adolescent boys at a higher risk for unintentional firearm-related injury and death.
- ammunition and firearms stored together -- When a firearm is locked away with ammunition, or left loaded, it greatly increases the risk of unintentional firearm-related injury and death. It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of all firearm owners keep their firearms loaded and ready for use at times.
- lack of supervision -- Most unintentional firearm shootings among children occur during times when children are not supervised, such as during the late afternoon, on weekends, and during summer months.
- high-risk homes -- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), homes that can increase the risk of unintentional firearm-related injury and death include homes where there are alcohol or drug-addicted individuals.
Injury statistics and incidence rates
The following statistics are the latest available from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign:
Injury and death rates
- In 2003, 231 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional firearm-related injuries; more than 50 percent of these injuries were severe enough to require hospitalization.
- In 2002, 60 children ages 14 and under died from unintentional firearm-related injuries.
- Unintentional shootings account for nearly 20 percent of all firearm-related fatalities among children ages 14 and under, compared with 3 percent for the entire U.S. population.
- The total annual cost of unintentional firearm-related deaths and injuries among children ages 14 and under is almost $675 million.
- In 2003, nearly 8,300 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional non-powder gun-related injuries (e.g., BB guns, pellet guns).
- The unintentional firearm injury death rate among children ages 14 and under in the United States is nine times higher than in 25 other industrialized countries combined.
Where and when
- Most unintentional firearm-related deaths among children occur in or around the home; 50 percent at the home of the victim, and 40 percent at the home of a friend or relative.
- The presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk of unintentional firearm-related death among children (especially if the firearm is loaded and kept unlocked).
- Most unintentional firearm-related child deaths involve guns that were loaded and accessible, and occur when children play with the gun.
- Up to one-half of firearm owners keep their firearms loaded and ready for use some of the time.
- Most unintentional shootings among children occur in the late afternoon, on the weekend, and during summer months when children are most likely to be unsupervised.
- Rural areas have higher incidences of unintentional firearm-related injuries, as well as higher rates of firearm ownership.
- Approximately 3.3 million children in the US live in households with firearms that are, at times, kept loaded and unlocked.
- Boys are more likely to suffer unintentional firearm-injuries or die from an unintentional shooting than girls. More than 85 percent of children ages 14 and under who die from unintentional shootings are boys.
- African-American children, ages 14 and under, are twice as likely to die from an unintentional shooting than Caucasian children.
- Children living in the South are three times more likely to die from unintentional shootings than children living in the Northeast.
- As many as 75-80 percent of first and second graders know where their parents' gun is kept.
- Some 3 year olds are strong enough to pull the trigger of many handguns.