Stricter state gun laws linked to fewer child deaths from gunshot wounds

(Reuters Health) - Twice as many U.S. children die from gunshot wounds in states with lax gun laws, compared to those with stricter rules, researchers told the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Orlando, Florida.

“We found that stricter gun laws on the state level did result in fewer children dying from guns,” said Dr. Stephanie Chao, a pediatric surgeon at Stanford School of Medicine in California, who presented her team’s results on November 5.

“We also found the presence of Child Access Prevention laws has a very dramatic effect on pediatric suicide fatalities,” Chao, who is also medical director of trauma care at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, told Reuters Health.

The Stanford researchers examined firearm injury statistics for 2014-2015 recorded in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web-based injury reporting system. They cross-referenced the data with each state’s 2014 Brady score, a numeric rating of the strictness of a state’s gun laws, and with 2014 Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws, as indexed by the Giffords Law Center. CAP laws make adults legally liable for allowing children access to guns.

Overall, about 2,715 children died from gun injuries each year. These deaths include 62 percent deemed homicides and just over 31 percent suicides. After adjusting for factors that could influence the risk of gun death, such as family poverty, unemployment and substance abuse, the researchers still found a strong link between the strength of gun laws and children’s risk of death.

Broken down by Brady scores, states with the weakest laws had 5 child deaths by gunshot wound per 100,000 population while states with the strongest laws had a rate of 2.56 per 100,000.

Furthermore, states with no Child Access Prevention laws experienced four times as many children’s suicides by guns: 0.63 per 100,000 children in states with CAP laws and safe storage or gun lock laws, compared to 2.57 per 100,000 in other states.

“Currently, only 27 states in the U.S. have any form of Child Access Protection laws. Passing Child Access Prevention laws in the remaining 23 states would be a great starting point for using research like this,” Chao said.

Background check laws also drastically reduce child gun deaths, according to a separate team of researchers from Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC, who presented their findings at the conference on November 2.

They performed a similar analysis of the CDC’s data on children who died by gunshot, cross-referencing statistics for 2015 with state Brady scores, and looked at three types of laws in particular: universal background checks for gun buyers, background checks for ammunition buyers and requiring firearm identification before purchase.

Fewer children were killed by gunshot in states with background check laws for buyers of guns or ammunition, researchers found.

In the 12 states with universal background check laws, 3.8 children per 100,000 died of gunshot wounds, compared to 5.7 in the rest of the country. And in the five states with ammunition background checks, 2.3 children died per 100,000 compared to 5.6 in the rest of the country.

Only two states had firearm identification laws. The difference in their mortality rates compared to the rest of the country was not statistically significant.

The research is consistent with the Stanford team’s findings and with studies Children’s National presented in 2017, said Dr. Shilpa Patel, a co-author of the new study and an assistant professor of pediatric and emergency medicine at Children’s National.

Patel suggests that physicians have a role in preventing children’s death by firearms.

“It is important for clinicians to screen for pediatric patients’ access to firearms and to counsel parents and families on safe firearm storage. Additionally, parents always should ask about firearms and their storage prior to sending their children to other homes for play dates,” she said.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition 2018.