Why We Need to Talk about Guns and Youth

BlogHealthFeb 2 2016

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that guns are a part of people’s lives in the South, where about 40 percent of households have guns. Growing up and living in North Carolina, I’ve known people who have owned and used guns regularly since their teen years. I think this is why, when the topic of gun control surfaces (most recently with President Obama’s executive actions), my Facebook feed becomes a battleground of opinions, often with a lot of hostility on both sides. But polarized conversations don’t help address gun injuries and deaths, which is unfortunate, because our children’s lives depend on it. In 2014, over 6,500 young people from birth through age 24 died by firearms, and in 2013, over 29,000 were injured.[1],[2] Beyond the number of deaths and injuries in any given year, guns affect youth in several concrete ways.

Even with these sobering facts, we shouldn’t lose hope. It’s possible to reduce the negative impact of guns. Programs exist that address and prevent the root causes of violence among youth. Counseling by pediatricians about gun safety, coupled with the distribution of tools (e.g., handgun lock box or trigger lock), shows promise in improving safe gun storage, which can reduce unintentional injuries. New technologies, such as firearms with biometric locks, may also help. Additional research can help us determine innovative solutions at the societal and individual levels.  However, to significantly reduce the impact of guns, we all need to be part of the development of solutions, especially gun owners. Estimates vary, but surveys indicate that roughly one in three U.S. households owns a gun, a sizeable part of the population. And despite my Facebook feed, collaboration is possible: groups, such as the New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition, are bringing together diverse interests to reduce firearm deaths.  We just need this cooperation to spread – our youth are counting on us.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Compressed Mortality File 1999-2014 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December 2015. Data are from the Compressed Mortality File 1999-2014 Series 20 No. 2T, 2015, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/cmf-icd10.html on Jan 28, 2016.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 20 Leading Causes of Nonfatal Violence-Related Injury, United States (2013, all races, both sexes, all cases, ages 0-24). Accessed at http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfilead2001.html on January 28, 2016.