States where there are more laws restricting adolescents' access to firearms have lower deaths among children and adolescents through shootings. This was the result of a study by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine.
"We focus so much on the arms discussion on federal laws, but we can do a lot at the local and state levels to influence change," Dr. Stephanie Chao, assistant professor of surgery at Stanford.
California, Illinois, and Maryland – with the most stringent laws forcing families to unload and confine weapons – suffered only half as many lives as the least restrictive states, including Alaska, Arizona, and Alabama. States with stringent laws had an average of 2.6 deaths per year per 100,000 children, compared with 5 deaths per 100,000 in less restrictive states. California experienced 2.36 deaths per 100,000 children – the very low end of the spectrum.
Even clearer was the difference in the suicide rates of firearms. Shooting suicides were four times rarer in states with severe limitations, 0.63 child suicides per year, compared to 2.57 suicides in states with less restrictive laws.
The results show that state-level legislation plays an important role in reducing child-related firearms. The study's key authors, to be presented at a conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Orlando, Florida, on November 5, are former student Sriraman Madhavan and postdoctoral fellow Ph.D. Jordan Taylor.
"Nobody wants weapons in the hands of children. This is probably the area where everyone agrees, "Chao said.
While 27 states have child protection laws for children, she said, "there is a tremendous opportunity for these 23 other states to introduce some form of prevention."
The stringency of the laws is different. In some states, only safe storage and handling of the gun is required. Others, such as California, say that an adult can be prosecuted if a minor receives access to a neglected firearm.
But any law that seeks to reduce children's access to weapons leads to a decline in deaths.
This finding has also been proven after controlling for differences in socioeconomic factors such as poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and early school leaving rates, said Chao, a pediatric surgeon and medical director of the Trauma Clinic at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford
In her role she examined how she can prevent severe childhood injuries and she conducted the investigation because she knew that laws sometimes do not have the intended effect.
Firearms injuries are the second most common cause of death among children in the US, causing 2,715 deaths each year. Of these deaths, 62.1 percent were homicides and 31.4 percent were suicides. According to Chao, a child in our country is 82 times more likely to die from a gunshot injury than any other developed nation.
Adult research has shown that laws provide protection. A paper from JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013 found that most laws on possession of weapons, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, are 42 percent lower than those with the least restrictions, including Utah and Oklahoma.
Chao's team examined the firearms laws of all 50 states and then examined the overall stringency of each state's arms laws as of 2014 using a metric called Brady, named after James Brady, who has been involved in gun control since 1981, assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
Ratings ranged from -39 in the least severe state of Arizona to +76 in California's most stringent state. The states were divided into four groups based on their Brady score. They also looked at whether there were laws in every state to prevent children being placed in two groups: laws that require the safe storage of weapons (locked or discharged, or both) and laws that dictate their liability that minors are denied access to weapons.
The scores of states were significantly related to the death of guns in children between 0 and 19 years between 2014 and 2015, although other factors were taken into account.
While this finding is a correlation and does not prove cause and effect, lawmakers should take this into account when changing policies, Chao said.
"With more children dying in these states," she said, "there may be a way to prevent it."