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Study: Children gun deaths spike as family handgun ownership rises

By Tauren Dyson
Study: Children gun deaths spike as family handgun ownership rises
Firearm deaths among children between ages 1 and 4 have doubled as family handgun ownership has risen to 32 percent in the United States. Photo by LovableNinja/Pixabay

Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Guns kill about 1,300 children each year and injure more than 5,700, and as handgun ownership has increased, so have these statistics, a new study shows.

Firearm deaths among children between ages 1 and 4 have doubled as family handgun ownership has risen in the United States, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

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The study shows that, from 1976 to 2016, handgun ownership by white families rose from 25 percent to 32 percent, even as overall firearm ownership within white families fell from 50 percent to 45 percent over the same period.

"Although our study does not examine the reasons for this shift directly, other studies have shown that there have been shifts over time in people who primarily own guns for self-protection and think firearms make their homes safer (despite the evidence they do not)," Kate Prickett, a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Waikato, told UPI. "Handguns are most frequently purchased for self-protection, versus, say, hunting, where you would be more likely to purchase a long gun."

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The decline in overall firearm ownership comes from fewer white families purchasing rifles, shotguns and others used to hunt.

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Of the firearm-owning families with children, 72 percent own handguns, researchers report.

Meanwhile, handgun ownership continues to climb, even as violent crime has dropped by nearly 50 percent between 1994 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Gun ownership among black families, conversely, has fallen drastically from 38 percent to 8 percent from 1976 to 2016, the study says. Yet, black children died as a result of gun violence at three times the rate of white children.

Last year, guns came in second behind car crashes as the leading killer of children in the United States, according to a University of Michigan study.

"To our knowledge, there has not been a response to the specific firearm mortality that we highlight in our study, although groups such as the NRA have attempted to address firearm safety among children, such as their Eddie Eagle campaign. To our knowledge, there have been no studies that demonstrate these programs are effective," Prickett said.

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The NRA's Eddie Eagle GunSafe program works with parents, educators and law enforcement officials to promote gun safety for children.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation also offers Project ChildSafe, which works with parents, gun owners, law enforcement and other partner organizations to educate children and distribute firearm safety kits -- which include free cable-style gun locks -- in communities around the country.

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However, gun violence among youth seems to be a problem that has less to do with education and more to do with access to firearms.

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Much of the increase in gun deaths among children comes from school shootings. In recent years, school shootings have become more deadly than at any time in U.S. history.

And many of those shootings were carried out by children who had easy access to a parent's guns, researchers say.

A 2018 study showed that about 4.6 million kids live in a home with a loaded and unlocked gun.

To help curb the problem of accidental shootings among children, Prickett has a simple and familiar strategy.

"To keep their firearms safe, parents should follow the three key principles: 1. Lock the gun away in a gun safe or locked cabinet; 2. Unload the ammunition from the gun; and 3. Lock the ammunition in a separate location," Prickett said.

Prickett acknowledges that, on its own, locking up guns doesn't necessarily prevent kids from getting access. Parents need to follow up with a conversation on the danger of picking up guns.

"Research has shown that just giving out free locks isn't actually enough. There also needs to be information that is provided to parents to ensure that they use gun safes appropriately and consistently," Prickett said.

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