On December 14, 2012 the unimaginable occurred when 26 students and teachers were gunned down at an elementary school. As inconceivable as the loss of so many lives to guns may seem, it is just a fraction of what occurs every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 87 Americans die by gunfire each day.
Firearm-related injury and death is an important public health issue for all Americans, regardless of where they live. Firearm mortality rates for young people are the same in big cities as they are in small rural counties, according to CHOP research. The difference is in the intention: Rural areas see more suicides and unintentional gun-related deaths, while urban areas suffer more gun-related homicides. The types of guns used also vary-- hand guns predominate in big cities while long guns and rifles are seen with increased frequency in rural firearms injuries.
It is a complex and far reaching epidemic for the U.S. While the causes of violence are many, the presence of a firearm can turn an act of aggression lethal, or a suicidal ideation into a completed event. Gunshot wounds are caused by homicide, suicide and unintentional firing of a gun. The statistics relating to firearm injuries in kids are staggering - click here to learn more.
Every day, U.S. trauma centers like CHOP bear witness to the deaths and life-changing injuries of American children from gunshot wounds. At CHOP alone, since 2003, we have admitted more than 273 children ages 18 and younger who were treated for gunshot injuries-- drawing from 74 different zip codes in southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. The majority of these injuries were assaults (192), 72 admissions were accidental and 9 were self-inflicted injuries.
Because the issue of gun violence is so complex, solutions need to be comprehensive. Across the medical community there is consensus that countermeasures to the national epidemic do exist and can be implemented through enacting laws or improving public policy.
VPI@CHOP Position on Gun Violence
The Supreme Court of the United States has clearly upheld the right of the individual to bear arms. And, in a nation with more than 300 million firearms, we need to develop policies that focus on how to live in a world with guns, such as policies aimed at reducing the risk and frequency of gunshot injuries and deaths.
Michael Nance, MD, a VPI Fellow and director of the Pediatric Trauma Program at CHOP, co-authored the updated policy statement on “Firearm Injuries and Children” for the American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) that appears in the November 2013 issue of Journal of the American College of Surgeons. VPI supports the APSA positions, which are grounded in empirical evidence and clinical expertise, with a focus on children. Below is a summary of the positions, and you can also access a video of Dr. Nance speaking about the policy statement and approaching violence as a public health issue here (please note you will need to create a free Medscape.com account to view the video).
APSA Positions Supported by VPI:
- Support a system of universal background checks for all firearms transactions, including private, internet, and gun show sales.
- Improve accuracy and completeness of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
- Support all efforts to limit access by children to firearms, including use of gunlocks and safe storage techniques as well as Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws that hold parents responsible for the consequences of a child accessing and using a firearm.
- Support efforts to improve availability and quality of mental health services for both children and adults to prevent gun violence as well as to help people fully heal from gun violence.
- Provide resources to train teachers, health care professionals, and social workers to identify mental illness; provide resources to facilitate interaction among school, law enforcement, and mental health agencies; generate social dialogue to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health care.
- Support removal of 1996 language from congressional appropriations bill that restricts the funding of firearms-related research necessary to make evidence-based decisions that address this public health problem.
- Support limits on access to high-capacity magazines and assault-style weaponry.
- Support removal or clarification of language in the Affordable Care Act censoring discussion about presence of firearms in homes with children between physician and families.
- It’s especially important to provide such counseling when it is known that a firearm is present in home of a patient assessed to be clinically depressed or in a home with reported domestic violence.
- A 2003 study showed that 64 percent of individuals who received verbal firearm storage safety counseling from their doctors improved their gun safety practices.
- Do not support a standard practice of arming teachers, parents, or other officials in the school-setting, in the absence of scientific evidence of safety benefits to such practice.
In addition to the APSA positions, CHOP’s VPI Fellows agree with the Pediatric Trauma Society that hospital trauma programs treating a substantial number of children for assault injuries each year should provide violence prevention programs in the communities they serve.
Children & Gun Violence: Facts and Statistics
Recommended Reading and Resources
Gun Safety & Public Health: Policy Recommendations for a More Secure America. National Alliance of Physicians. August 2013.
Gun Safety for Children and Youth: University of Michigan and the American Academy of Pediatrics provide practical tips to prevent accidental gunshot wounds.
Home Firearm Safety tip sheet from University of Michigan provides infographics and images about safe gun storage options.
The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign was created in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Across the country, it has successfully inspired an estimated 19 million households to ask if there are guns where their children play. Join these parents and pledge to ASK this life-saving question at www.askingsaveskids.org.
Pennsylvania-specific data on violence and injury that includes mechanisms, intent and demographics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) is an interactive database system that provides customized reports of injury-related data. The database allows users to query for specific states and regions.
Safe Kids Worldwide provide brief tips on storing guns and ammunition safely.