Twenty children or adolescents were hospitalized for firearm-related injuries every day in 2009, and 453 died of their wounds, a new report says.
The study provides one of the most comprehensive recent efforts to tally the number of children hurt nationally in gun-related incidents. It was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
A national database of patients younger than 20 who were admitted to hospitals in 2009 shows that boys represented nearly 90% of the total, and that the rate of gunshot-related hospitalizations for African American males was 10 times that of white males.
Blacks ages 15 to 19 were 13 times more likely than their white peers to be injured by gunfire. And 70% of all black children hospitalized for gun injury (compared with 32% of all white children injured by firearms) were classified as victims of assault. Latino children and adolescents were three times likelier than white children to be hospitalized with a firearm-related injury.
Hospital care for youths injured by gunfire cost $147 million in 2009, according to the report, but that is a fraction of the overall cost of the injuries. It doesn’t include physician-related services, rehabilitation and ongoing care and rehospitalization, and does not take into account many victims’ loss of future productivity. (Past research has found that almost half of children hospitalized for gun-related injury are discharged with a disability.)
The latest estimate boosts the number of those younger than 20 hurt by firearms in 2009 to 7,391, from 6,496.
For years, public health researchers have relied on the National Epidemiological Injury Surveillance System to track gunfire-related injuries in the United States. Though that system is to be expanded under an Obama administration initiative launched last year, it has based its national estimates of all kinds of injuries — including those resulting from gunfire — on a yearly sampling of 66 hospital emergency departments across the country.
The database used in the latest research samples a larger number of hospitals and is thus likely to generate a more accurate accounting of firearms’ toll on children and adolescents. The database covers all but six states, covering 96% of the U.S. populace.
In the latest accounting, researchers from the medical schools of Yale and Boston universities asserted that decades of aggressive injury-prevention efforts have driven down the pediatric toll of poisonings, household fires and drownings. By contrast, they said, “there have been no robust public health efforts to reduce firearms injuries.” They suggest that is largely because, since 1996, federal law has essentially blocked the use of taxpayer dollars for research that might bolster calls for gun control measures.
Meanwhile, the researchers wrote, gun-related injuries have followed a pattern of inequality seen elsewhere on the American health landscape: Victims are far more likely to be poor and members of an ethnic minority than they are to be white and affluent.
Victims ages 15 to 19 made up 84% of the children brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds, and two-thirds of those injuries were attributed to assault. Among these older children, roughly 24% of the cases were considered unintentional. Suicide attempts accounted for 239 of 4,143 of those firearm-related hospitalizations.
Among younger children, accidental firearm injuries were most common. Of the 378 children under 10 brought to the hospital in connection with a firearm injury, roughly three-quarters were considered victims of an accidental or unintended shooting. Thirty-one children younger than 5 and 47 ages 5 to 9 were injured in gun-related assaults in 2009.
Among Latino youths, firearm-related injuries were three times higher than among white children, the data show. And African American girls were more than six times as likely as their white counterparts to be injured by gunfire.
Suicide attempts accounted for 3.7% of the gun-related hospitalizations — a total of 270 kids in 2009 (25 of whom were younger than 15). One-third of these children and adolescents died, a fatality rate roughly eight times higher than that of assault or unintentional-injury victims.