Almost 16 American children shot a day, new figures reveal

Researchers say the study proves the need for more preventive public health measures

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The Independent US

Almost 16 children in the US are hospitalised each day due to gunshot injuries, new research shows.

A new study, which will be presented at a meeting of paediatrics experts in San Francisco, found that more than 5,800 US youth needed hospital treatment for gunshot injuries in 2012. Of those, nearly 90 per cent were male, and a disproportionate number were black. More than half were Medicaid recipients.

“This data confirms prior studies finding socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in paediatric firearm-related hospitalizations, the majority being those with Medicaid, from the lowest median household incomes and being Black or Hispanic,” the researchers concluded.

Previous research suggests this is partially the result of a vicious cycle: exposure to violence impacts academic achievement and job stability, which then impact income. And researchers in a similar study found yet another factor that plays into this: mental health.

A study from the University of Colorado found that adolescents with mental health diagnoses have an easier time accessing firearms than their peers without such diagnoses. Previous studies have connected easier access to firearms to increased gunshot deaths.

Teens with depression, anxiety, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were twice as likely than their peers to say getting a gun would be easy, according to the study. Those who had attempted suicide were more than twice as likely to have a friend with a handgun than those who had not.

Overall, firearms accounted for 29 per cent of all adolescent deaths.

"Efforts should be made to counsel families of higher risk youth on the safest way to keep firearms away from their children, including either removing guns from the home or keeping them in lock boxes or safe storage devices that kids don't know how to get to," urged Dr Eric Sigel, the lead author of the study.

 

The authors of both studies said their findings prove the need for more funding for firearms research and public education campaigns.

"Our findings add urgency to the need for preventive public health measures to reduce gun injuries in children," said Alyssa H Silver, lead author of the first study. "The fact that 57 per cent of firearm-related injuries in children under 15 years old were unintentional, for example, highlights the need for improved gun safety and storage practices."

Gun research, however, is notoriously hard to fund: Pressured by the National Rifle Association, Congress pulled all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding for gun-related research in 1996. Former President Barack Obama ordered the organisation to renew research into the causes of gun violence in 2013 – but without government funding, progress has been slow.

An effort to remove the ban on government funding for gun research was blocked by House Republicans last year.

According to Dr Silver, National Institutes of Health – another source of government money for public health research – spent $2.2m of federal funds on gun-related research last year. They were estimated to have spent $115 million on research into cannabis.

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows gun violence is the least-researched of all leading causes of death.

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