Firearms recently became the number one cause of death for children in the United States, surpassing motor vehicle deaths and those caused by other injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released updated official mortality data that showed 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020 — a new peak.
Since there is no end in sight to this devastating new normal (and the federal government doing pretty much nothing), others are looking for other ways to help reduce the number of deaths that come from gun violence. A new study suggests there may be one simple way to help alter a child’s behavior if they come in contact with a gun.
The new report — published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday — explored the effects of a child’s behavior around firearms when watching a short safety video.
Among more than 220 kids who participated in the clinical trial, those who watched a gun safety video were less likely to touch guns they found and pull the trigger. They were also more likely to tell an adult.
Researchers at the Ohio State University created a randomized control trial in which 226 kids (ages 8 to 12 ) were randomly sorted into groups. At home, one group watched a one-minute gun safety video featuring the Ohio State University police chief, while the other watched a similar video on car safety.
“Guns are not toys and are not to be played with,” Chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt states in the video. “If a child finds a real gun, they should not pick it up or move it. Instead, find an adult and tell them where it is located.”
One week later, the kids went to the Ohio State University laboratory. In a “two-by-two” setup, kids within each group also watched clips from a PG-rated violent movie. Some watched the film with guns and another version watched with the guns digitally edited out.
According to Brad Bushman — a professor of communication at the Ohio State University and one of the study’s authors — the film clips were intended to act as a “trigger” for the kids while also testing the researchers’ hypothesis that movies with guns could be a “risk factor” that makes kids more “aggressive” around firearms.
After viewing the film, the kids were brought into another room filled with games and toys, and the adults left. Amongst the toys, two real — but disabled — 9 mm handguns were hidden in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in the playroom.
Bushman explained that researchers wanted to try and recreate a scenario that resembled cases where adults don’t lock and secure their household firearm. Instead, they just assume that kids won’t find them.
While the children weren’t told about the guns, 96% of the kids still found them within first 20 minutes of play. Through hidden cameras and sensors on the guns, the researchers in the next room monitored how the kids reacted.
Researchers found that the children who had seen the gun safety video were 28% less likely to touch the gun and held the gun for less than half the time if they did touch it. They were also over 20% less likely to pull the trigger, and those who did pulled the trigger fewer times.
The study also found that young boys pulled the trigger and handled the guns longer than girls. Boys also pointed the gun at themselves or the child they were in the playroom with more often.
Based on surveys the kids filled out, children who had taken a gun safety course before, lived in homes with guns, or reported disliking firearms held the gun and pulled the trigger less.
As for the film the kids viewed with guns featured, researchers did not find any correlation between the kids watching violent film clips and how they behaved around firearms in real-life.
Despite the gun safety video improving how children behaved around the hidden firearms, over 50% of kids still touched the gun. Less than 25% overall told an adult about the found gun.
“It’s really, really important not to lose sight of the fact that [the videos] did not eliminate the risk,” Dr. Eric Fleegler, an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School, told CNN.
“That is fantastic that we have reduced the risk, but by no means have we eliminated it.”
To reduce the risk of a horrifying accident at home, Moms Demand Action recommends gun owners operate by the Be SMART approach. The Be SMART framework is designed to help parents and adults normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries which includes proper storage and responsible modeling for children.
Before playdates, parents should always ask if they keep firearms in their home and if so, note where they are stored. Asking this one simple question could save a life.
Read the entire study here.