Gun deaths among toddlers and young children see dramatic rise, alarming research shows

PORTLAND, Ore. — A recent review of national firearm data spanning over 20 years has come to an incredibly troubling conclusion. Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University find unintentional firearm deaths among American toddlers is skyrocketing out of control. Deaths of children between the ages of one and four are increasing exponentially; by an annual average of 4.9 percent between 1999 and 2018.

Most often, these incidents injure or kill non-Hispanic Black or Caucasian children. The U.S. firearm death rate for young children is over eight times higher than any other developed nation.

“What is perhaps most distressing about these findings, is that nearly 90% of these instances took place in or near the victims’ home, and 100% of the events were preventable,” says lead researcher Archie Bleyer, M.D., a clinical research professor in the Department of Radiation Medicine, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, OHSU School of Medicine, in a university release.

Researchers relied on data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. The study finds the majority of these tragedies between 2015 and 2017 involved injuries inflicted by a handgun. That trend matches the high rate of firearm background checks and handgun permits issued across America during that same period.

More Americans are buying guns

Based on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, close to 39,700,000 firearm background checks were conducted in 2020. This represents a 40-percent increase over 2019.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, researchers say overall gun sales have increased noticeably. At the same time, accidental injuries and deaths due to firearms among one to six-year-olds are also on the rise.

“The continuing pandemic, as well as strong civil unrest, are of great concern for an even larger increase in potential firearm access and associated deaths in young children,” Bleyer adds. “Increased safety training and intervention, particularly for first-time gun owners, is imperative to ensure a decline in the rate of such unfortunate incidents.”

On a related note, another study conducted a few years ago concluded millions of American children live in a home where guns are not stored safely or securely.

“Many families who own firearms do not think about the danger they can pose to children. However, the reality is that kids are curious by nature and are not injury proof,” concludes Dr. Ben Hoffman, medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

“Parents and caregivers need to work to eliminate hazards and threats from the places where kids and youth spend time and have access. Placing dangerous items in a drawer or on high shelf isn’t enough. Firearms – as well as medications, household cleaners and other toxic substances — must be safely locked away to help mitigate preventable disaster.”

The study is published in the Journal of the National Medical Association.