Tighter gun laws lead to fewer firearm-related injuries in children

CHICAGO — Do stronger firearm laws make a difference in the number of children injured in gun-related incidents?

A study conducted by researchers with the Children’s National Health System found that areas of the United States with tougher firearm laws had lower rates of pediatric visits to emergency rooms compared to areas with more relaxed gun laws.

Child holding a gun
A recent study found that areas of the U.S. with stronger firearm laws had lower rates of pediatric visits to emergency rooms compared to areas with more relaxed gun laws.

“Firearm-related injuries are a leading cause of injury and death among children and represent a significant public health concern,” says Monika Goyal, the study’s senior author, in a press release. “This study provides compelling data that an evidence-based approach to public policy may help to reduce firearm-related injuries among children.”

Researchers gathered data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample and included trips to the hospital for patients under 21 between 2009 and 2013. They excluded emergency room visits related to air, pellet, BB or paintball guns as these are not covered under firearm legislation.

The researchers used state-level Brady gun law scores to come up with median scores on a regional basis. They wanted to determine the effectiveness of gun laws on youth injuries.

Over the five-year study, 111,839 children were taken to emergency rooms for firearm-related injuries. That amounts to 22,368 per year. The mean age of this group was 18 years old and most were males.

For all ages, 62.8% of firearm-related injuries were due to accidents, but for children between the ages of 6 and 10, this rose to 81.4%. Of overall gun-related injuries, 6% died and 29.8% were serious enough to require hospitalization.

The authors found that regional-score injury rates were much higher in the West, South and Midwest than in the Northeast, which had the lowest rate of firearm-related emergency visits.

Children in the Midwest were 1.8 times more likely to end up in an emergency room with a gun-related incident than those in the Northeast, while children in the South were 1.9 times more likely and children in the West 2.5 times more likely.

“Regions with higher Brady scores — and, by extension stricter gun laws — had lower rates of ED visits by children and youth,” Dr. Goyal adds. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to characterize the relationship between children’s firearm-related injuries and the rigor of regional firearm legislation.”

The authors point out that, unlike adults, almost 63% of the time children are injured by firearms it is because of an accident involving guns. They stress the need for studying the impact of firearm laws, especially as they affect children.

“Despite the importance of this topic, there has been a paucity of published research about firearm-related injuries and how they may be prevented. Most existing data have focused on adults; these findings cannot necessarily be extrapolated to children,” Dr. Goyal says.

The study findings were presented at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference.