Children are much more likely to be
murdered, commit suicide or die accidentally because of guns in
states and regions with higher levels of household firearm
ownership, according to a new study by Harvard researchers.
The study, published in The Journal of Trauma, is
significant because it shows that the mere presence of firearms
leads to more violent death among children aged 5-14, said Dr.
Matthew Miller, the lead author.
"When most people buy a gun, they do so with the
presumption that guns make them safer," Miller said in an
interview. "Our results suggest strongly that this presumption
is not warranted and that the children that parents seek to
protect with guns are instead being killed by guns."
While other studies have shown links between teen suicide
and guns, this is the first national study to examine the
connection between firearm ownership and violent death among
younger children, said Miller, associate director of Harvard's
Injury Control Research Center.
The study looked at data from all 50 states from 1988 to
1997. In that period, 6,817 children between 5 and 14 years old
died from firearms: 3,447 from homicides, 1,782 from accidental
shootings and 1,588 from suicide.
The study showed that the five states with the highest gun
ownership levels had many more firearm-related deaths among
children than the five states with the lowest levels of gun
The two groups of states had almost the same number of
children, but in the high gun-ownership states there were 253
accidental firearm deaths compared to just 15 in the low
There were 153 firearm suicides in the high gun-ownership
states compared to 22 in the low-ownership states and there
were 298 firearm murders in the high gun-ownership states
compared to 86 in the low-ownership states.
Meanwhile, the rates of non firearm-related suicides and
murders in the two groups of states were much closer, leading
Miller to conclude the increase in deaths was attributable to
the higher number of firearm-related deaths.
"The large difference in gun-related deaths compared with
the low level of difference in non-firearm deaths allows us to
say that guns are playing some role," Miller said.
The difference remains even when the data is controlled for
poverty, education and urbanization, the study found.
"Although no conclusions about cause and effect can be
made, this study provides compelling evidence that states with
high firearm availability are states with high childhood
firearm death rates," Dr. Therese Richmond of the University of
Pennsylvania's Firearm Injury Center wrote in an editorial.
The five states with the highest rates of gun ownership are
Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia.
The five with the lowest are Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, New Jersey and Delaware.
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