ORLANDO – and laws restricting children’s access to firearms are linked to reduced pediatric firearm suicide rates, according to research.
“State-level legislation could play an important role in reducing pediatric firearm-related deaths,” concluded Jordan S. Taylor, MD, of Stanford (Calif.) University and his colleagues.
Dr. Taylor earned top honors among the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention research abstracts when he presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Firearm injuries account for the second leading cause of death among U.S. children: 3,155 youth ages 19 years and younger died from gunshot injuries in 2016, and more than 17,000 were injured. Yet state laws governing the purchase, ownership, carriage, and storage of guns vary widely across the country. Dr. Taylor and his colleagues conducted two studies to assess the effects of firearm legislation on firearm-related injuries and deaths in U.S. children.
In their first study, they analyzed pediatric inpatient admissions for firearm injuries in 2012 relative to the stringency of state firearm legislation. They relied on five data sources for the analysis: the Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID), the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the 2013 Brady scorecard.
The Brady scorecard provides scores for each state based on the presence and strictness of firearm-related laws, including legislation on background checks, ability of dangerous individuals to purchase guns, trafficking laws, and laws governing the sales, carrying, and purchasing of firearms.
The 10 states with the strictest laws (highest Brady scores) are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The 10 states with the lowest scores (least-strict legislation) are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Among the 6,941 youth (aged 0-20 years) hospitalized in 2012 for firearm injuries, 7% died. More than a third of these (36%) occurred in the South, 25% in the Midwest, 22% in the West, and 17% in the Northeast.
Children most likely to be injured were boys, older children, black and Latino children, and children living in low-income zip codes.
The Midwest and South, which have lower average Brady scores (more lax legislation on guns), had 8.30 injuries per 100,000 children, compared with 7.54 injuries per 100,000 children in the Northeast and West, which have higher average Brady scores (more stringent gun laws). This was a difference of 0.76 injuries per 100,000 children (95% confidence interval, 0.38-1.13; P less than 0.001).
Then the researchers conducted a second analysis that looked specifically at firearm mortality within the context of both child access prevention (CAP) laws and states’ Brady scores. CAP laws include safe storage laws and gun lock laws, for example.
This analysis used the Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System to capture pediatric firearm deaths from 2014-2015 and compared these to the 2014 Brady scores and CAP laws.
An estimated 2,715 child gun deaths occurred during the study period, of which 62% were homicides and 31% were suicides. The researchers identified “a significant negative correlation between states’ firearm legislation stringency and pediatric firearm mortality (Spearman correlation coefficient = –0.66) and between presence of CAP laws and firearm suicide rates (Spearman correlation coefficient = –0.56).”
Dr. Taylor said in an interview, “states that have both types of child access prevention laws [had] suicide rates four times lower than states that did not have either of those.”
Positive correlations also showed up between unemployment rate and firearm homicide rate (Spearman correlation coefficient = 0.55) and teen tobacco use and firearm suicide rate (Spearman correlation coefficient = 0.50).
The association between Brady scores and pediatric mortality from firearms remained significant after adjustment for poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse (P less than .01). Similarly, the association between the pediatric firearm suicide rate and CAP laws remained significant after controlling for socioeconomic factors and other firearm legislation (P less than .01).
In a video interview, Dr. Taylor discussed his research findings and their importance in clinical practice.
“It’s absolutely important for pediatricians to talk to families about firearms in their home and also in the homes of their friends that they visit,” Dr. Taylor said. “We try to approach it as a public health issue similar to seat belts and car seats.”
No external funding was used, and Dr. Taylor reported no conflicts of interest.