Each year in the United States, more than 30,000 people are killed by guns.
Overall, 36 percent of these deaths are homicides, 60 percent are suicides and 2 percent are the result of unintentional injuries.
For children, though, the majority of deaths are classified as homicides — 66 percent — while suicides account for 28 percent and accidents for 4 percent.
The mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December rekindled a nationwide debate about guns, and led to intensified efforts to reduce gun deaths. In April, a measure that would have expanded background checks for firearms purchases came before the U.S. Senate but failed to pass.
Over the past 20 years, Brady background checks have kept more than 2 million individuals with criminal records or other disqualifying factors from buying guns at dealerships. The recently rejected bill would have expanded background checks to other sales, including those at gun shows, keeping guns out of the hands of those who cannot use them safely.
Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, have indicated that they support expanded background checks and will vote in favor of future legislation if administrative details can be worked out to ensure that legal gun sales or transfers will not be prohibited.
During their 2013 legislative sessions, some states passed measures banning assault weapons and limiting the size of ammunition clips, both supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as ways to reduce the burden of gun violence suffered by children.
Unfortunately, the only gun bills introduced in the Georgia Legislature this year would have expanded concealed-carry rights, resulting in more guns in locations where young people congregate, including places of worship and college campuses. The bills did not pass.
The Georgia chapter of the AAP opposed these concealed-carry measures, which would have made children more susceptible to gun violence. We encourage parents to contact their state legislators and urge them not to support bills that would increase the number of children harmed by gun violence.
The AAP notes that research shows that a gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in self-defense. A gun kept in the home triples the risk of homicide and increases the risk of suicide by five times. For these reasons, the AAP recommends that parents not keep guns in their homes if children live there. If the parents choose to have a gun in the home, it is essential that the gun remains locked in a safe and the ammunition is locked away separately, making it harder for children to put them together and harm themselves or others.
In the 1990s, Congress passed legislation prohibiting the CDC from conducting research on gun violence and gun safety. This has stifled data collection and scientific efforts to reduce the toll of guns on public health. The AAP encourages Congress to lift this ban and permit research to make guns safer and keep more children alive.
Mass shootings like those in Newtown and in Aurora and Columbine, Colo., capture the public’s attention, but the majority of children who perish from guns die one at a time. Reducing the prevalence of guns and children’s access to them will keep families from enduring the tragic loss of a child.
Dr. Bob Wiskind has practiced general pediatrics in Atlanta for more than 20 years. He was a longtime board member of Kids Health First, a pediatric IPA, and currently serves as president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.