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A ‘compelling call’ for pediatricians to discuss firearm safety

little boy looking at gun

The Children’s commentators point to the “extremely dangerous” combination of “the small curious hands of a young child” and “the easily accessible and operable, loaded handgun” and suggest that pediatricians who counsel families about safely storing weapons tailor messaging to the weapon type and the family’s reason for owning a firearm.

Paradoxically, as overall firearm ownership decreased in U.S. households with young children from 1976 to 2016, the proportion of these families who owned handguns increased. This shift in firearm preferences over decades from mostly rifles to mostly handguns coincided with increasing firearm-mortality rates in young children, researchers report Jan. 28, 2019, in Pediatrics.

“Almost 5 million children live in homes where at least one firearm is stored loaded and unlocked,” Kavita Parikh, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s National Health System, and co-authors write in an invited commentary. “This study is a loud and compelling call to action for all pediatricians to start open discussions around firearm ownership with all families and share data on the significant risks associated with unsafe storage. It is an even louder call to firearm manufacturers to step up and innovate, test and design smart handguns, inoperable by young children, to prevent unintentional injury,” Dr. Parikh and colleagues continue.

The Children’s commentators point to the “extremely dangerous” combination of “the small curious hands of a young child” and “the easily accessible and operable, loaded handgun” and suggest that pediatricians who counsel families about safely storing weapons tailor messaging to the weapon type and the family’s reason for owning a firearm.

They also advocate for childproofing firearms stored in the home – through free or discounted locks, storing weapons separately from ammunition, and using personalized technology that limits the firearm’s potential to be used by children accidentally. According to a retrospective, cross-sectional study led by Children’s researchers, younger children are more likely to be shot by accident.

“The development of effective safety controls on firearms is not only attainable but could be the next big step towards reducing mortality, especially among our youngest. We as a society should be advocating for continued research to ‘childproof’ firearms so that if families choose to have firearms in the home, the safety of their children is not compromised,” Dr. Parikh and co-authors write.

In addition to Dr. Parikh, the senior author, the Pediatrics commentary co-authors include Lead Author Shilpa J. Patel M.D., MPH, emergency medicine specialist; and co-author Monika K. Goyal M.D., MSCE, assistant division chief and director of research in Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine.

Lenore Jarvis at #thisisourlane meeting

#thisisourlane: Pediatricians call for safer firearm storage, enhanced research funding

Lenore Jarvis at #thisisourlane meeting

The 2-year-old scampered unexpectedly into a room, startling a family member. Thinking the toddler was an intruder, the family member fired, hitting the child in the chest.

In the emergency department at Children’s National Health System, Lenore Jarvis, M.D. MEd, FAAP, emergency medicine specialist, and colleagues tried to save the boy’s life, inserting tubes, transfusing blood and attempting to restart his dying heart via CPR. The Children’s team was unsuccessful and emerged covered in the blood of a boy whose death was heartbreaking and preventable.

Firearm violence is a leading cause of childhood traumatic death and injury,” Dr. Jarvis told attendees of a recent congressional news conference intended to prod the incoming Congress to take more concrete action to prevent firearm violence. She provided snapshots of some of the countless lives of local youths cut short by firearms, including an 8-year-old girl killed on a playground in a drive-by shooting, a 13-year-old young man murdered during a fight, a 15-year-old young woman who committed suicide and an entire family who died from firearm injuries.

“I wish it were not so. But these stories are endless. In our emergency department, the effects of gun violence are frequent, life-altering and personal,” Dr. Jarvis said.

The #ThisISOurLane press conference, convened by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, (D-Illinois), included haunting stories by clinicians from across the nation about the devastating impact of firearm injuries on children and youth. According to a retrospective, cross-sectional study led by Children’s researchers, younger children are more likely to be shot by accident, and odds are higher that older youths are victims of an assault involving a firearm.

“Gun violence is a public health crisis and should be addressed as such. We need to reduce the numbers of suicides, homicides and accidental gun deaths in children,” added Dr. Jarvis, who also is president-elect of the District of Columbia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

During the news conference, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., (D-New Jersey), vowed that the House Energy and Commerce Committee he chairs this session will move forward languishing bills, including funding the Centers for Disease Control Prevention to conduct firearms violence research.

Pediatric ED visits and regional firearm laws

A Children’s research team led by Monika Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., found that the Northeast region had the most restrictive firearm laws and the lowest overall burden of firearm-related pediatric emergency department visits.

Pediatric emergency department (ED) visits for gun-related injuries were lower in regions with stronger firearm legislation, according to a five-year study led by Children’s National Health System.

Presenting the findings during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference, the Children’s research team found that the Northeast region had the most restrictive gun laws and the lowest overall burden of firearm-related pediatric ED visits. Firearm-related pediatric ED visits were significantly higher in the West, South and Midwest, according to the study.

“Firearm-related injuries are a leading cause of injury and death among children and represent a significant public health concern,” says Monika Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National and senior study author. “This study provides compelling data that an evidence-based approach to public policy may help to reduce firearm-related injuries among children.”

The research team extracted data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, the nation’s largest such database, and included ED visits from 2009 to 2013 by patients younger than 21. The team excluded emergency visits due to air, pellet, BB or paintball guns because they are not governed by firearm legislation. They used state-level Brady gun law scores to calculate median regional scores as measures of firearm legislation strictness.

During the five years covered by the study, there were 111,839 ED visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries, or 22,368 per year. The mean age of patients with firearm-related injuries was 18 years old. The majority were male. Across all age groups, 62.8 percent of firearm-related ED visits were because of accidental injuries, a statistic that rose to 81.4 percent for children aged 6 to 10. Six percent of patients died from their injuries, and 29.8 percent of injuries were serious enough to prompt hospital admission.

When compared with the low rates of firearm-related ED visits in the Northeast, the odds of children visiting EDs for firearm-related injuries were significantly higher in other U.S. regions, including the West (2.5), the South (1.9) and the Midwest (1.8).

“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 note that unlike adults, most children rushed to the Emergency Department overwhelmingly suffered from accidental firearm injuries. This fact underscores the importance of robust research that focuses specifically on 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.