A new study shows that firearm injuries and deaths increased in Colorado children, ages 0 to 19 years, between 2014 and 2019, averaging almost one injury per day and one death per week.
The study, authored by pediatricians at Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Colorado Chapter (AAP-CO) and a Colorado high school student, shows that while automobile injuries consistently have decreased, gun-related injuries are on the rise. In 2019, for the first time in Colorado, guns became a larger contributor to childhood mortality than cars.
Safe storage can lead to less risk
“Too many kids are getting injured and dying from easily-accessed guns,” said Dr. James Todd, a pediatric expert at Children’s Colorado and leading policy voice within the AAP-CO. “Parents and policymakers should take note because safe storage can keep our children safer.”
“I became interested in childhood gun injury because of the impact it has had on some of my friends, and because I myself have been in the presence of an easily accessible loaded gun without any adult supervision,” said Cameron Todd. “Without a requirement that firearms be responsibly and securely stored when not in use, it is far too easy for a minor to get a hold of a gun and unintentionally hurt themselves, a sibling, or a friend.” Cameron Todd, age 17, is a senior at East High School in Denver, a co-author on the study, and Dr. Todd’s grandson.
Recent increases in gun-related injuries and deaths put children at risk
The new data shows that children of all races and ethnicities, across both rural and urban areas of Colorado, are at risk of injury and death from firearms. Nearly all regions in the state saw increases in non-fatal childhood firearm injuries between 2014 and 2019.
According to the study, most firearm injuries in children are unintentional, while the majority of deaths are due to easy access to firearms resulting in suicide. Overall, childhood automobile injuries far outnumber those due to firearms, but the fatality rate for firearm injury in Colorado kids is 18 times greater than for automobile injury.
“Suicide is the leading cause of death for kids in our state, and more and more children are getting hurt and killed by guns in Colorado,” said Heidi Baskfield, vice president of Population Health and Advocacy at Children’s Colorado. “Fortunately, the vast majority of the accidents and suicides we are seeing are preventable.”
Colorado data supports policies to keep guns out of kids’ reach
The study supports public policies that would protect children from unsupervised access to firearms, such as the “Safe Firearm Storage” bill, House Bill 21-1106, which is currently pending before the Colorado legislature. AAP-CO and Children’s Colorado have endorsed House Bill 1106. In Colorado, there is currently no law requiring the safe storage of firearms.
For decades, public health policies steadily have reduced automobile injuries and fatalities in the United States and in Colorado. Similarly, many firearm injuries and deaths in Colorado children can be prevented by increasing risk awareness and firearm safety best practices that limit kids’ access to unsecured weapons and ammunition.
Children’s Colorado and the AAP support House Bill 1106 to keep kids safe
“We know that for many, owning firearms is a way of life in Colorado,” said Baskfield. “At the same time, responsible gun ownership means safely storing your firearms. Children’s Hospital Colorado supports a safe storage requirement in Colorado law because it pairs public policy change with public education to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe.”
“The safe storage of a firearm is as simple as buckling a child in a car seat to protect them. A safety-focused approach can keep kids safe from unsecured guns, just like changes to the law have improved automotive safety over the years,” said Dr. Martha Middlemist, a pediatrician in community practice and past president of AAP-CO. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends policy measures and effective strategies to limit children’s access to firearms and improve firearm safety, including requiring safe storage of guns.”
The released data comes from Colorado Hospital Association’s inpatient and Emergency Department databases, along with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that relies on death certificates. This data predates the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.