When you think of America, you may think apple pie, stars and stripes, and now unfortunately, you should also think of children being killed by guns.
A study released Monday in the journal Pediatrics paints a startling portrait. Based on data from 2012–2014, the study found that there was an average of 5,790 children per year who visited emergency rooms in the U.S. with gun-related injuries. And each of those years, approximately 1,297 children died as a result of gun-related injuries.
For some perspective, that means that of all the children killed in the world by gun violence, we’re No. 1 — and by far. 91% of the children killed by guns around the world are American, according to a study published last year in The American Journal of Medicine.
A War Against Children
We don’t currently have active military operations in the U.S. Yet we have higher rates of gun death for kids than places where there are active wars. Why (and how) are children dying?
Gun violence and suicide by gun are now the third leading cause of death for American children ages 17 and younger, behind illness and accidents like car crashes and drowning. On average, 19 children are treated for, or lose their lives to, gun-related injuries in America every day.
The Pediatrics study breaks down the numbers: 53% of the shootings were homicide; 38% suicide, 6% unintentional, and 3% of undetermined cause.
Children in urban areas, according to the study, were more likely victims of homicide, while children in rural areas were by far more likely to have committed suicide. While the intention behind each shooting may be different, there is a common denominator: access to guns.
Armed Toddlers Can’t Be Profiled
Despite the fact that toddlers may act like terrorists, no one in their right mind would suggest that we should profile them or charge them for a crime.
Toddlers don’t go out and buy guns. They find them. Gun deaths in kids are preventable, and it’s up to parents to, at the bare minimum, follow these guidelines:
Secure all guns in your home and vehicles
Model responsible behavior around guns
Recognize the risks of teen suicide
Tell your peers to be SMART
It is up to anyone who is around children to store guns unloaded, locked, separate from ammunition, and away from children. Many gun owners have chosen to keep their weapons in biometric safes, which like the fingerprint recognition on your smartphone, can only be unlocked by the appropriate person.
It’s Time to Turn Anger and Outrage Into Action
It’s time we get over the fear of asking others whether they have weapons in the home. If grandma gets offended when you ask how she stores the handgun she keeps for self-protection, then maybe your kids shouldn’t be at a sleepover at her house. If you have a tween, start keeping an eye out for symptoms of suicide and suicidal thoughts. If you have a young kiddo, ask them what they would do if they saw a gun. (Their answer may surprise you).
The bottom line is that you do not have to feel powerless against the horrifying reality of child gun deaths in America. Turn your outrage into action. Become an advocate for your children and for all children. Let America shine for its protection of children, not their deaths. Every single one of us has that power and responsibility.