“Childhood Under the Gun”

Although many parents keep handguns at home to protect their families, recent studies indicate that they are substantially increasing the risk of injury to the children in their home.
By Margaret Combs
Boston Parents’ Paper – March 1994

To own or not to own a gun? A substantial number of Americans have already exercised their right to keep a gun in their home, many under the impression they will better protect their families. Every 20 years since the 1950s, the number of gun owners in the United States has doubled, and now nearly 50 percent of American homes have at least one gun on the property, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In one of four homes, the firearm of choice is a handgun, a weapon considered more desirable for protection than for sport.

These figures indicate that Americans widely embrace the notion that a gun in the home or the hand will protect loved ones against intruders and crime. But a slate of childhood death statistics, plus a mounting pile of new research, suggests this simply isn’t true.

In fact, the most recent findings from a number of scientific studies now coming to light in medical journals suggest that the nation has reached a point where gun owners should seriously reconsider whether keeping a gun in the home is worth the risk, even if the gun is kept unloaded and locked up.

In 1990, nearly 20,000 young people between the ages of 1 and 34 died as a result of gun-induced homicides, suicides and accidental shootings, according to the latest figures available from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in Rockville, MD. The National Pediatric Trauma Registry at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston shows that the number of children under 19 needing trauma care for gunshot wounds over the past four years has nearly doubled.

These figures place firearms as the second leading cause of death (following car accidents) for children 10 to 19 years of age.

While very young children are dying in fewer numbers than in years past, they are still at risk, mostly from accidentl shootings. Last year, 200 children were killed in the United States as a result of playing with guns; 30 of them were under 5 years old, according to the National Safety Council.

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