By Punreet K. Bhatti, MD
Now that school is out and summer has begun, kids will be at home with more free time to play. Unfortunately, out of the nearly 1.7 million households that have a gun that’s loaded and unlocked, 1 out of every 3 has a child living there. These unsafe practices have contributed to 80% of unintentional firearm deaths of children under 15 years of age. Even more worrisome is that 38% of children under age 10 living with a gun reported having handled a household gun. Surprisingly, when the parents were questioned, 39% mistakenly believed their children did not know where the gun was stored; 22% believed that their children had never handled a gun (Hospital Pediatrics).
In the effort to promote a healthy dialogue with caregivers and their children about firearm safety in the household, The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign was initiated as a collaboration between the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The pediatric community can play a significant role in reducing the number of firearm-related deaths and injuries by encouraging parents to ask the simple question, “Is there an unlocked gun where my child plays?” In a survey of well-child visit audio recordings with pediatric residents, firearms were not discussed in a single encounter as a topic of injury prevention. A reason for this could be the lack of training that students and trainees receive on firearm-related injury prevention and safety. When residents were educated, they noted having more confidence on the topic and an increased likelihood to provide gun safety counseling. Thus, incorporating a Web-based gun violence curriculum for pediatric residents at the national level is an effective way to improve counseling for families.
This June 21 on ASK Day, take the pledge for #AskingSavesKids. A strong show of support will reinforce the need for pediatricians to ask patients and their families about firearm access, encourage safe storage and support firearm-related injury prevention research.
Pediatricians should review the following points with families who have children of all ages as part of their routine anticipatory guidance:
- Firearms should always be stored unloaded in a locked case, with ammunition locked separately.
- Suicide by firearms is the 3rd leading cause of injury-related death for adolescents between 15 to 19 years of age. Advise the removal of guns from the home of any child or teenager who is depressed. Access leads to increased risk of use.
- Instruct parents to ask if there is a gun in the house where their child is playing before sending them.