Firearm-related injuries to children are associated with death and severe health problems.
It is a significant public health problem. Pediatricians, in New Mexico and throughout the U.S., have sought effective measures to prevent suicide, homicide and unintentional firearm-related injury to children and adolescents.
According to data from emergency departments throughout the United States, an estimated 75,000 people of all ages are treated for nonfatal injuries related to firearms in the U.S. each year. Twenty percent of these injuries occur in children and adolescents. The economic cost of such injuries is estimated to be $17.4 billion, including $0.8 billion in direct medical costs and $16.6 billion in lost productivity. In the same year, studies reveal that self-inflicted firearms injuries and suicides cost society $16.4 billion, including $16.3 billion in lost productivity and $0.1 billion in direct medical costs.
Unintentional deaths because of firearms take the lives of approximately 100 children each year. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among American youths age 15-19. Firearms remain the most common method used for suicide in this age group. A recent study of youth suicide rates showed New Mexico to have the fifth-highest youth suicide rate. New Mexico also has the fifth-highest percent of household gun ownership.
The presence of unlocked guns at home increases the risk of both unintentional gun injuries and intentional shootings. The presence of a firearm at home increases the risk of suicide even among those without a previous psychiatric diagnosis. Laws reducing child access to firearms, which primarily requires safe gun storage, are associated with lower overall adolescent suicide rates. Pediatricians have long discussed safe storage with parents at regular well-child visits. When the state of Florida tried to legally prevent pediatricians from having these discussions, the American Academy Pediatrics went to court and overturned the law.
The New Mexico Legislature is addressing this epidemic of firearms-related injuries and deaths with bills requiring stronger background checks and better safe storage of firearms.
Currently, federal law requires background checks to be performed on anyone purchasing a firearm at a federally licensed gun dealer. However, studies show that only 40 percent of guns sold in the U.S. are sold through a federally licensed dealer. In New Mexico, sales at gun shows, flea markets and private gun sales are not subject to background checks. Senate Bill 8, House Bill 8, House Bill 35, House Bill 40 and House Bill 201 will help close these loopholes. We support these bills.
Safe storage laws that required guns to be stored locked and unloaded when any person prohibited from possessing a gun is present, or so child and youth may not gain access, help prevent firearms injuries and deaths. House Bill 130 will help increase safe storage of firearms. We support this bill.
As long as children continue to be injured and killed by guns, we pediatricians will continue to speak out to keep them safe.
Dr. Laurence Shandler, FAAP, has cared for the children of Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico for over four decades. Dr. Janis Gonzales, MPH, FAAP, is president of the New Mexico Pediatric Society, the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.