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In the News

Children at high risk of accidental gun death, suicide
Reuters Health, 10/13/2000

Copyright Reuters Health. All right reserved. Used with permission.

By Chris Cunningham

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Although homicide deaths from guns are decreasing overall, the number of young people are who are dying from accidental gun deaths and suicide is rising at an alarming rate, according to Common Sense about Kids and Guns, a non-political gun safety and gun violence prevention organization.

In 1997-1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites)'s National Center for Health Statistics found that accidental firearm deaths increased 21% among children aged 5 to 9, and firearm suicides for children aged 10 to 14 years increased by 21%.

Many of these suicides and accidental deaths could have been prevented had the parents or other responsible adults taken precautions to store their guns properly, according to Victoria Reggie Kennedy, president of Common Sense.

``If (the adult) makes a decision to keep a gun in the home, it has to be unloaded and locked, and the key or combination has to be kept on them,'' Kennedy told Reuters Health.

Kennedy said other research has shown that 40% of households with children under 18 have at least one gun in the house, and that one quarter of those guns are loaded or unlocked. She pointed that this is of particular concern for the 1.2 million ``latch key'' children who return every afternoon to a home that is both unsupervised and contains an accessible gun.

``(More than) 1.2 million latch key kids going home to no parents and firearms is a disaster waiting to happen,'' she said.

Approximately 75% of all firearm-related accidents and suicides involving children and teens are committed with a firearm found at home, or in the home of a relative or a friend.

Kennedy urges parents to ask the adults in homes where their children play if they keep firearms in the house or car. If they do, parents should not allow their children to play in those homes without supervision.

``You wouldn't leave a child unattended around a swimming pool (and) you can't leave them unattended with a firearm improperly stored,'' she said.

Kennedy encourages families to weigh the circumstances unique to their own home situation, such as whether someone in the family abuses drugs or alcohol or is prone to depression or violence, before bringing a gun into the home.

``If you are going to have a firearm in the home, you have to educate yourself about the responsibility that entails,'' she explained.

Kennedy advises parents to talk to children at an early age about guns; to teach them not to touch guns; and to tell an adult if they find one. But such discussions do not replace the need to unload and lock the gun properly, Kennedy cautioned.

Teens are particularly vulnerable to gun accidents and suicide. In an innocent prank around friends, they might point a gun and ``don't realize, if you take a clip out, there is still a bullet in the chamber,'' she explained.

Because teens are vulnerable to ``rollercoaster'' emotions as well as depression, Kennedy noted, parents should pay attention to their child's behavior, and not be afraid to ask if they are thinking of suicide.

Teens experience ``enormous feelings of alienation and feeling alone,'' she noted. ``It's our job as adults to make them feel valued, loved and needed.''

For more information on gun safety and children, visit

Copyright (C) 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters Limited content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters Limited. Reuters Limited shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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