The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 30, 2013

Gun violence: a pediatric public health crisis


Children who received gun safety training are just as likely to play with and fire a real gun as children not trained. In one study, 8-12 year old boys were observed via one-way mirror as they played for 15 minutes in a waiting room with a disabled .38 caliber handgun concealed in a desk drawer. Seventy-two percent discovered the gun and 48 percent pulled the trigger; 90 percent of those who handled the gun and/or pulled the trigger had prior gun safety instruction.

Rather than confer protection, careful studies find guns stored in the home are 44 times more likely to be involved in an accidental death, homicide by a family member, or suicide than against an intruder. In 2009, suicide was the third leading cause of death for American youth, with firearms the most common method used. The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded, "the most effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents is the absence of guns from homes and communities."

Firearm-related deaths are among the top three causes of death among American youth. From a public health point of view, the origins of gun violence are many. The convergence of apparently too-easy access to firearms; a generation increasingly desensitized to gun violence and its real consequences through regular exposure to slaughter during video games, movies and television; and mental health problems, particularly among adolescents and young adults, often contributes to deaths from firearms in this country.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated specific measures to prevent violence to children. Those measures include banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to the public, stricter firearms safety laws and background checks, limiting children's exposure to media violence as in movies and video games and greater support for mental health services.

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