Policy Statement on Children and Guns
Over 45,000 Americans died from firearm-related deaths in 2020, the highest rate of firearm-related deaths among industrialized nations. Today, firearms are a leading cause of death among children ages one to nineteen. More than 3500 children and adolescents die a gun-related death annually, including over 1200 deaths by gun suicide. Gun violence is a public health crisis that is increasingly affecting America’s children.
Increasing gun ownership in American homes facilitates youth access to guns. One third of all homes in the United States have guns and nearly 65 million Americans own guns. When guns are in the home, the risk of death by homicide and suicide as well as unintentional injury is four times higher.
Research on brain development demonstrates that young children have difficulty accurately assessing risk and that adolescents are inclined toward risk-taking behavior. These developmental considerations make access to guns particularly dangerous for children and adolescents. Additionally, children and teens are victims of domestic violence shootings. Access to guns in homes experiencing family violence increases the risk of death related to domestic violence shootings.
The impact of gun violence inflicts an enormous burden on society. When compared to communicable and infectious diseases, gun violence often poses a larger burden on society in terms of potential years of life lost.
To help prevent firearm related deaths and injuries to children and adolescents, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends:
- Reducing the presence of guns in homes and communities. This is particularly critical for homes or families in which the threat of personal violence exists.
- Supporting all efforts to educate children and the public about the danger of guns, and the increased risk of accidental injury and death associated with gun ownership.
- Restricting, controlling, and closely supervising all access to firearms by youth.
- Keeping firearms in the home unloaded, locked, and separated from ammunition. Research shows the safe storage of firearms in the home is vital in reducing accidents and saving lives.
- Promoting mandatory trigger locks and cable locks for the proper and safe storage of firearms in the home.
- Supporting increased funding for research on gun safety and the prevention of gun-related violence and opposing legislative efforts to restrict or inhibit such initiatives.
- Encouraging the strict enforcement of existing laws pertaining to the purchase, ownership, and storage of firearms.
- Advocating for extended waiting periods and mandatory background checks for all transactions related to gun ownership.
- Supporting risk-based gun removal laws and other initiatives designed to protect children and reduce the incidence of gun related violence.
- Opposing legislative efforts to limit, restrict, or interfere with clinical inquiries by physicians about the presence of and access to firearms in the home.
- Encouraging physicians and clinicians to inquire about the presence of, and access to, firearms in the home, as such inquiries are essential to a comprehensive safety assessment.