When navigating controversial or challenging societal issues, it can be helpful to look to trusted medical organizations to shed light and shape policy. For many parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a primary resource for this type of information.
In the wake of more mass shootings in the United States, the issue of gun control is once again in the spotlight. Due to the significant impact guns have on the well-being of children, the AAP has issued multiple statements supporting gun legislation and gun safety measures.
The AAP states, "Gun violence is a public health epidemic that is injuring and killing children at alarming rates. Any death from gun violence is one too many if it's in your family or your community. We must implement common-sense solutions that have been proven to reduce these injuries and deaths."
The AAP shares the following statistics to support its stance:
- The risk of suicide increases (by 4 to 10 times) when loaded and unlocked guns are kept at home.
- 87 teens and young adults are injured or killed by guns in the United States every day.
- In 2019, there were 241 unintended shootings by children which resulted in over 100 deaths and almost 150 injuries.
- " A gun in the home is43 times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than a burglar or other criminal."
They caution that children as young as three have the strength to pull a trigger.
To reduce this violence, the AAP has listed the following as their top priorities for gun violence prevention at the federal level:
- "Stronger gun laws, including stronger background checks, banning assault weapons, addressing firearm trafficking, and encouraging safe firearm storage;"
- "Violence prevention programs addressing the needs of at-risk children and children exposed to violence;"
- "Funding for gun violence prevention research and public health surveillance;"
- "Protecting the crucial role of physicians in providing anticipatory guidance to patients about the health hazards of firearms;"
- "Ensuring children and their families have access to appropriate mental health services to address the effects of exposure to violence."
Specifically the AAP advocates for the following steps to reduce gun injuries:
- Safety design restrictions that aim to prevent "junk" handguns
- Universal background checks
- Banning of assault weapons
- Waiting period requirements between purchase and gun possession
- Stronger mental health restrictions
When it comes to gun safety in the home, the AAP states that "the safest home for children and teens is one without guns," However, approximately one-third of homes with children have a gun—many of them are stored loaded and/or unlocked.
If you have a gun (or if your child spends time in a home with a gun), the AAP recommends the following safety measures:
- Guns should always be stored safely. Safe gun storage means "unloaded, locked up (lockbox, cable lock or firearm safe), with ammunition stored separately."
- " When using a gun for hunting or target practice, keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it. Before setting the gun down, always unload it."
- Do not allow your child to use a gun. "No matter how much instruction you may give about how to safely shoot a gun, children are not capable or responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon."
- Trigger locks should always be present on guns.
Additionally, the AAP strongly suggests all parents ask about the presence of guns before allowing their child to spend time in someone's home. The ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign provides guidance for how to do this. They suggest asking, "Is there an unlocked gun in your house?"
This can feel like an awkward question at first, but if more parents start doing it routinely, it will become second nature. And the consequences of not asking are just too great to avoid a few moments of awkward conversation.
Think about it like this: If the person is going to be offended and angry about you asking this question, do you want your kids playing at their home anyway?
Lastly, the AAP states it's important to talk with your child about guns. "Remind your kids that if they ever come across a gun, they must stay away from it and tell you immediately." And they need to understand that gun violence in the media and video games is make-believe. "They need to be told—and probably reminded again and again—that in real life, children are killed and hurt badly by guns. Although the popular media often romanticize gun use, children must learn that these weapons can be extremely dangerous."
To learn more about the AAP's stance on guns you can visit their page HealthyChildren.org, and of course, speak with your pediatrician.
This piece was originally published in April 2021. It has been updated.