Commentary, COVID-19

Child health experts: Safe gun storage is especially critical during the pandemic

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[Editor’s note: The following essay was co-authored by a team of experts in the fields of pediatric medicine and gun violence. For more information about the issue of safe gun storage, click here to explore a fact sheet prepared by North Carolinians Against Gun Violence 

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has confined families to their homes, creating considerable, widespread stress. Gun sales have also risen, especially for first time buyers. This creates a deadly combination of circumstances. Ensuring safe storage of guns is always important – but especially critical during this crisis.

Gun sales have surged in North Carolina, where gun retailers report increases of 500%-1000% above normal March gun sales, especially for first time buyers. Nationally, according to data from ammunition retailer its sales are up by 792% for the period February 23 through March 31 compared to January 1 through February 22, 2020. This has the potential to exacerbate an already concerning trend in gun deaths.

The N. C. Division of Public Health reports that 70% of all gun deaths occur in the home. These tragedies are mainly due to firearm suicides (60% of NC gun deaths), domestic violence, and unintentional shootings. North Carolina’s youth (ages 10 to 17) suicide rate has almost doubled in the last decade (82.6% increase). During the same period, the rate for adults has increased by 13.7%.

Suddenly, children and adolescents are obligated to spend more time at home while also being isolated from support (friends, extended family) and extracurricular activities. They may be less well-supervised as parents cope with juggling work and household needs and lack of childcare options. They also feel the uncertainty, fear, and tension of this pandemic. Moreover, they know where guns are stored, and they aren’t as afraid to use them as we’d like to believe. In fact, 73% of American children under 10 know where a gun is stored in their home, and 20% have handled a gun when an adult was not around. A third of North Carolina parents are gun owners and a quarter of those parents’ guns are unsecured. To be responsible caregivers, adults must protect our children by safely securing weapons.

Most guns that children use in suicide attempts and unintentional injuries come from their home or the home of a friend or relative. As this pandemic stretches on, there is increased risk of suicide by both adults and adolescents simultaneously facing new stresses and social isolation.

Access to a gun increases the risk of death from suicide by 300%. As noted by Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center’s Director David Hemenway: “most attempters act on impulse, in moments of panic or despair. Once the acute feelings ease, 90 percent do not go on to die by suicide.” A firearm’s quick destruction does not allow for suicidal ideation to ease.

Safe storage can help. The simple solution is to keep all guns unloaded, locked, and separate from locked up ammunition. Gun safes/cabinets are the safest options, followed by trigger and cable locks. Whichever you may choose, make sure to hide the key or combination from your children as well as any adults who have threatened violence to themselves or others. Safety kits, which include a free cable-style gun lock and safety instructions, are usually available from your local law enforcement agency.

Securing access to firearms in the home is responsible and simple. And it just may save a loved one’s life. With the rise in firearm purchases and the evolving coronavirus pandemic creating fear, isolation at home, and uncertain supervision of youth, we urge families to halt this perfect storm before we lose more lives to gun violence.

Becky Ceartas
Executive Director
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence

Brian Eichner, MD, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Duke University School of Medicine

John Moses, MD, FAAP
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Duke University School of Medicine

Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, FAAP
Professor of Pediatrics
Chief, Division of Primary Care Pediatrics
Duke University School of Medicine

Carol W Runyan, PhD
Emeritus Professor
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

One Comment

  1. Russell Mortensen

    April 30, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    It’s scary to think that easy access to firearms has increased suicide rates in children. That is why it’s so important to find a great safe that will keep your guns locked up tightly. My spouse and I want to get some rifles so that we can protect our home and hunt if we need to.

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