The safest home for children and teens is one without guns, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in a renewed call to reduce what is often the tragic effect of guns in the lives of children and adolescents.
Studies show that risks are greatly reduced when guns kept at home are stored unloaded and locked with the ammunition in a separate place.
Pediatricians routinely offer this injury-prevention counseling as part of their guidance to families at health care visits.
“The destructive effects of guns in the home resulting in injuries and deaths continues to be an important issue for Arizona as well as nationwide,” says Sara Bode, M.D, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Bode, a member of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that 22 child deaths related to guns occurred in Arizona in 2010. The biggest increase in deaths occurred in patients ages 10 to 14. In more than 50 percent of those deaths, the kids obtained the guns from their parents’ or friends’ homes. Contrary to recommendations by the AAP as well as the National Rifle Association, 73 percent of those guns were stored loaded.
“These statistics continue to be alarming, and show us we have more work to do to educate our Arizona families on proper gun control and storage, says Bode. “Kids can be rash and make impetuous decisions all the time. Unfortunately, with guns this can lead to a permanent consequence there is no taking back.”
Strong scientific evidence suggests that the presence of a gun in the home of an adolescent increases the risk of suicide, even in the absence of a psychiatric diagnosis, says pediatrician Denise Dowd, M.D., FAAP, one of the lead authors of the AAP statement.
“Adolescents often experience very strong emotions and have difficulty seeing past a temporary setback,” says Dowd. “Their brains have not matured fully, which makes them impulsive, and relatively more likely to attempt suicide. When those attempts are made with a gun, there is little chance for them to change their minds. The odds of suicide are particularly high if the gun is kept loaded. It is absolutely critical that families who own guns follow safe-storage practices.”
The AAP supports the strongest-possible legislative and regulatory approaches to reduce the accessibility of guns to children and adolescents, including the following:
- Consumer product regulations regarding child access, safety and design of guns.
- Child-access prevention laws that enforce safe storage practices including the use of trigger locks, lock boxes and gun safes.
- Regulation of the purchase of guns, including mandatory waiting periods, closure of the gun show loophole, mental health restrictions for gun purchases and background checks.
- Restoration of the ban on the sale of assault weapons to the general public.