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Guns put 20 youth into the hospital every day

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  January 27, 2014 09:18 AM

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gun.jpgDid you know that in 2009, there were 7391 hospitalizations due to injuries from firearms in youth less than 20 years old? That averages to 20 a day--almost one an hour.

That was the finding of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers from Yale and from Boston Medical Center (including my dear friend and esteemed colleague Dr. Bob Sege) looked at data from the 2009 Kids' Inpatient Database. They looked at not just the number of hospitalizations, but whether the injuries were from assault, from an accident, or were a suicide attempt--and they looked at data about the youth being injured.

When they looked closely, they found that 85 percent, or 17 out of those 20, were between the ages of 15 and 19. Most of those teens were male, African-American or Latino, and most of the injuries were from assault. These are kids out to hurt each other with guns. 

The injuries in kids under 15, the 3 out of the daily 20, were mostly unintentional. These are the accidents. 

Six percent of the youth who were injured died--that works out to one every day. And the direct medical costs for all the injuries totaled more than $146 million.

Clearly, we need to do something. 

For the kids under 15, we need to do a better job of preventing accidents from guns. The American Academy of Pediatrics thinks that children are safer in a house without guns, and I agree--but if there is a gun in the home, everyone is safer if the gun is kept locked up, with the ammunition stored (and locked) separately. Just making sure that always happens can make all the difference when it comes to preventing injuries and saving lives.

For the kids older than 15, solutions are likely to be more complicated. It's still important to keep guns locked up; as the Sandy Hook shooting showed us, bad things can happen when youth (especially troubled youth) have access to their parents' guns. 

In general, we need to be doing everything we can to be sure that only responsible adults have access to guns. There are way too many loopholes and ways that guns end up in the hands of youth (and others who shouldn't have them) who use them on each other. We need to close those loopholes. It should be hard to get a gun--and we should know the background and mental health status of people who get them.

But it's just as important to find better ways to identify and help at-risk youth. We need to connect with them before they connect with a gun. We need to put real dollars into education, youth jobs, community programs, family support and mental health services. We need to teach nonviolent ways to resolve conflict. We need to look at all the social and cultural factors that might be contributing to youth violence, including media.

Each and every one of us can do something. Dr. Sege talked about a mother who found a gun in her son's jeans pocket--and turned it in to the police, because she didn't want to be saying at her son's funeral that she didn't see it coming. Whether it's locking up a gun or turning one in, volunteering at a school, talking to your legislator about funding for youth programming and mental health services, or making a donation, each of us can make a difference. 

This is a public health problem--one that is hurting the lives and futures of our youth. It's time to fight it like we fight the flu, or smoking, or obesity. Ultimately, this touches all of us.  

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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