Unsafe homes in America
Fewer Americans are likely to own a gun now than 40 years ago but those who do are more likely to own handguns over rifles or shotguns. As the proportion of those with handguns has increased, so has the number of children under the age of 5 who are dying from firearm injuries, according to a new study. "We are concerned that children are dying from preventable reasons and wanted to study ways to keep this from happening," said Kate Prickett, a family sociologist and demographer at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and lead author of the study. Prickett and her team used previously collected national statistics to estimate the number of children under five who died as a result of a firearm injury from 1976 to 2016 as well as the number of families who owned guns and the types of guns they owned. Over the 41 years, the proportion of families with young children who owned firearms decreased from 50 per cent to 45 per cent for white families and from 38 per cent to 6 per cent for African-American families. In white American households, handguns went from 49 per cent of the total guns owned in 1976 to 72 per cent in 2016. This increase was associated with a doubling of child deaths from firearms over the past decade, partially explaining it. Child deaths from firearms peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s and were on the decline until 2001, the study says. The rates have started to increase again, nearly doubling over the past decade. The authors explain that handguns are often purchased for personal protection and are, therefore, more likely to be stored loaded, unlocked and left in a more accessible place. Almost five million children live in homes where at least one firearm is stored loaded and unlocked. Dr Wendy Sue Swanson, a general paediatrician and chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children's Hospital, said the study comes as a reminder that many live in an environment that is still not safe for kids. "We know from data that we can't just tell our kids to not touch, that even when they know not to touch, they do anyway," said Swanson. "And they die more often because of this beautiful innocence and curiosity when there is a firearm in the mix," he added. As for what parents who choose to have a firearm in the home can do, Swanson is clear, "It cannot be stored in a place that a child can access and it should not be stored loaded," she said. "We cannot trust children not to explore the firearm or to even understand how it works and how lethal it is," she added.