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Gun Injuries in Children Need More Study, Better Prevention

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Firearm injuries in children are downright common—too common, a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association says.

Looking at injuries recorded at two Colorado trauma centers, one in Aurora and one in Denver, between 2000 and 2008, Dr. Angela Sauaia found that of the nearly 7,000 injured youths who were treated at these centers, firearms caused 129 of the injuries—or about 2 percent.

The numbers could be higher: The injuries reported by the trauma centers don't capture fatal gunshot wounds, those that went untreated, or those that were treated at other medical facilities.

In an interview with [email protected], Sauaia said the issue demands more attention.

"The main message is gun injuries among youth are not an isolated tragedy. Firearm injuries kill more than any other types of injury, many are self-inflicted, and many can be prevented by not allowing youth access to unlocked and loaded guns," she said. Sauaia is an associate professor of public health, medicine and surgery at the University of Colorado Denver.

She found that firearm-wounded patients were more likely to be adolescent males, and their injuries were more often self-inflicted compared with youths with other injuries.

A recent JAMA commentary noted that while public health research has helped reduce deaths from car crashes, drowning, and fires, a 17-year ban on federal funding for firearms research has crippled the investigation of gun violence and how to best prevent it.

(Given the Senate's recent struggle to deal with gun-control legislation and school safety issues, presumably that won't change for a while.)

Sauaia's research was not federally funded, she told the Denver Post. She told the newspaper she will not draw political conclusions, but noted the research means that at least 15 Colorado children a year are shot in "completely preventable" incidents.

In her research letter to JAMA, Sauaia said recent firearm-related fatalities prompted her to study the issue.

Compared with other serious injuries, "firearm injuries were more severe, more often required intensive care, and claimed more lives, justifying focusing on pediatric firearm injuries as a prevention priority," the study says. "More recent data from other areas with detail on the circumstances of the firearm injury are needed."

About half of the patients with firearm injuries required intensive care, compared to 20 percent of patients with other trauma. Thirteen percent of pediatric patients with gunshot wounds died, compared to less than 2 percent of youths with other trauma.

"People tend to only pay attention to gun safety issues after these mass killings but this is happening all the time to our children and it's totally preventable," Sauaia told MedicalExpress.com. "Are we as a society willing to accept that 2 percent of our children shot each year is an acceptable number?"

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement and Education Week Staff Writer Nirvi Shah on Twitter @NirviShah.

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