The number of children and teens in the U.S. who die in hospitals from gunshot wounds has increased by 60 percent in a decade, according to the first-ever study on such fatalities.
The two Boston doctors who conducted the study say the results should turn the national conversation away from semiautomatic weapons to limiting the number of smaller firearms in homes.
An estimated 500 American children and teens die from gun injuries each year. About 7,500 American children and teens are hospitalized for gunshot wounds annually — an 80 percent increase from 1997 to 2009.
“Handguns account for the majority of childhood gunshot wounds and this number appears to be increasing over the last decade,” Dr. Arin L. Madenci, study coauthor and a surgical resident at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told NBC News.
“Furthermore, states with higher percentages of household firearm ownership also tended to have higher proportions of childhood gunshot wounds, especially those occurring in the home," he added.
Madenci and coauthor Dr. Christopher Weldon, a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, reviewed statistics from a national database including 36 million pediatric hospitalization from 1997 to 2009 — the most recent year available.
They found that in 12 years the number of children hospitalized for gun injuries rose from 4,270 to 7,730, while the number of fatalities grew from 317 to 503.
Patcine McAnaul, the mother of one of these children, says that national debate on gun control only adds to her grief. Her 3-year-old son, Will McAnaul, died on July 21, 2009, after he found his father’s gun and shot himself in the face.
“That’s what I think is the hardest about this situation,” McAnaul said. “It’s not like your child died of cancer, or they died because of a drunk driver. This is a situation where people can point their finger at you. Part of you can’t blame them. And another part of you is like, ‘That’s not fair. We’re amazing parents.’”
Madenci says future studies should address whether guns specifically in homes were responsible for these deaths or injuries.
“It’s consistent with general theory which is that greater exposure leads to greater risk,” Daniel Webster, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told Discover.
“I see this as a huge step forward,” he added.