Most US households with children do not safely store firearms in the way the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: locked up and unloaded. If parents simply locked up all their guns, then up to a third of gun suicides and accidental deaths among children and teens could be avoided, researchers estimate in a new study.”Even a relatively modest increase” in locking up firearms could result in “substantial reductions in firearm suicide and unintentional fatalities among U.S. youth,” Michael C. Monuteaux, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, wrote in an email.
The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, used household data on gun ownership from 2015 to create a Monte Carlo simulation: a model that predicts the probability of various outcomes.
According to a 2015 national survey, 13 million US households with children had firearms. Nearly 14,000 children and teens were treated for nonfatal firearm injuries that year, and 2,800 died by gunfire. Of these deaths, 782 could be attributed to the presence of unlocked guns.
The study compared these actual fatalities with same-year simulations showing what might happen if more homes had safely stored guns.
If just 10% more households with children had locked up their guns, 50 more teens and children would be alive today, according to the study. If 20% had locked up their guns, 99 more would be alive today. If 50% had, 251 more kids would be alive today.
Locked-up guns would also have thwarted between 235 and 323 shootings (both fatal and injurious) of children and teens, the researchers estimated.
Doctors and public health professionals “need to communicate to parents that storing guns in a way that makes them inaccessible to children (that is, locked and unloaded) can reduce the number of children who die from firearm injuries, especially suicide,” Monuteaux said.