Stories about teens that carry a gun or guns into a school and open fire make the news. These stories pop up more often than they used to and sadly, we’ve almost become used to the headlines and overhead helicopter video of frightened children running to safety.
What is more common, but doesn’t make the news nearly as often, are the daily gun shot wounds that children suffer either by someone’s deliberate intention or accidently.
A new study says that gunshot wounds send about 20 children to the hospital every day in the United States.
A review of hospital records found that firearms caused 7,391 hospitalizations among children younger than 20 during 2009, the most recent year for which records are available, said Dr. John Leventhal, lead study author.
Of those shooting victims, 453 died while in the hospital.
While more than half of the injuries were intentional, nearly one third were accidental. Other reasons were either undetermined or were from suicide attempts. In three out of four hospitalizations, children younger than 10-years-old were more likely to suffer injuries that were unintentional.
"Three firearms-related patients each day are younger than 15 years of age," Leventhal said. "This is a tragedy. There are substantial injuries to these children that may have lifelong consequences."
Not surprisingly, boys were much more likely to suffer a gunshot wound than girls, with nine out of ten cases involving male patients.
The most common types of firearm injuries were open wounds (52 percent), fractures (50 percent), and internal injuries of the chest, abdomen or pelvis (34 percent), the report showed.
A smaller percentage of children suffered injuries that could cause long-term disability. About 15 percent of children had traumatic brain injury or an injury to the nerves or spinal cord following their shooting, conditions that often require years of rehabilitation.
"Those don't necessarily heal," Leventhal said. "Those children will struggle with these injuries for the rest of their lives."
A whopping eighty-four percent of these shootings involved teens, ages 15 through 19. Leventhal believes that some of the gun violence is related to gang activity although the database doesn’t provide specifics.
"Some of these are school shootings, some are gang-related, some are related to fights or disagreements," he said. "They all relate to access to guns."
The study’s results highlight the importance of firearm safety says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
"We've heard figures like that before," Benjamin said of the 20-victim daily average. "It's a lot more common than people think, even though that's a pretty robust number," he added.
"People have firearms at home for a variety of reasons. Some people think they are safer with them, but the evidence shows that's not the case," Benjamin said. "Far too often, there was a firearm under a mattress or a parent who put a firearm up high in the closet, way in the back -- but that's exactly where a child will look."
The authors of the study recommend that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines regarding firearms.
The AAP recommends that the safest home for a family is a home without guns," said co-author Dr. Robert Sege, a pediatrician and director of the division of family and child advocacy at Boston Medical Center. "If there is a gun in the home, the gun should be stored unloaded and locked, and the ammunition should be stored separately."
Benjamin said that society, as a whole, should place renewed emphasis on making guns safer.
"We've made cars much, much safer without outlawing cars," he said. "A comprehensive strategy which makes firearms safer and people safer with their firearms would dramatically reduce firearm deaths and injuries."
The new study was published online Jan. 27 and in the February print issue of Pediatrics.