How gun violence affects children’s health

Pediatricians associated with the Miller School of Medicine and the Mailman Center for Child Development discuss the effects of gun violence on the health of children and adolescents.

In the United States, more than a third of children live in homes with guns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which increases the likelihood of gun-related accidents and suicides. A Pew Research study published in 2021 found that 40 percent of U.S. adults live in homes with a gun.


With the number of firearms currently in the U.S., Dr. Oneith Cadiz, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Miller University School of Medicine in Miami, said he was not surprised to learn that from 2019 onwards it is the leading cause of child and adolescent deaths. Until 2020 it was armed violence. Over the past three years, Cadiz has said, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a greater sense of uncertainty and isolation, often because people believe that wanting to buy a gun can lead to greater security.

“Since 2019, both firearm access and the incidence of mental health inequalities have increased,” said Cadiz, director of the Miami Kids Injury Free Coalition. “But without intervention, we can’t expect change … and that’s why we continue to see such horrific events.”

Cadiz said he has always believed in legal reforms, such as stronger background checks before people bought guns, as well as encouraging everyone to practice safe storage of firearms at home. Many of these suggestions are also supported by the AAP.

Survivors face guilt, depression

In child care clinics and taught by doctors, Cadiz has seen the devastating impact of gun violence on young victims and children who have lost siblings and relatives as a result of the shootings. He is also a parent living in Cadiz Parkland, Florida, and has friends and neighbors with children from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 when an expelled teenager brought a rifle assault to campus and killed 17 people and injured 17 others.

He said direct experience with gun violence is difficult for anyone to recover from and usually includes guilt that survives, as well as anxiety and depression. Therefore, it gives them extra time to talk to patients who have experienced gun violence to understand what kind of support they need and then connects them to a mental health provider.

“Kids change forever with this,” he said. “But our job is to identify the kind of support they need, and to provide them with the tools to deal with their emotions, and to help them re-enter their daily lives. Out of a state of armed violence, because they are constantly on the lips. ”

Also, as part of her child’s well-being exams, Cadiz makes a point about asking about home weapons, something she and the AAP encourage all pediatricians to do. In particular, Cadiz suggests that parents keep their weapons in safe locked boxes without ammunition. The Injury Free Coalition for Children also provides key padlocks to families.

“We’re trying to become part of the culture, like when we ask kids what they eat in an exam,” he said. “Do we do a better job? Yes. Could we do better? Yes. ”

Cadiz said one of the positive developments he has seen as a result of the escalation of gun violence is the emphasis on mental health in medicine. He now hopes that lawmakers will respond with stronger funding for these resources.

“We have reached the point where victims are far superior to those who commit these crimes,” he said, “so we need to focus our efforts on the mental health care that both sides need.”

Techniques needed to improve security

Several colleagues who treat children’s mental health are in favor of Cadiz.

The horrific shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, “challenge us as a society,” said Jeffrey P. Brosco, associate professor and president of the Department of Pediatrics and associate director of the Mailman Center for Child Development.


He stressed that the nation has drastically reduced the death toll from motor vehicle accidents over the past two decades, calling for the use of the same techniques to improve gun safety and save thousands of lives.

“Public health research makes it clear that when a nation restricts access to weapons, children and their families are safer,” Brosco said.

Alan Delamater, a Mailman Center child and adolescent psychologist, agreed.

“The most important factor in explaining that children and adolescents today are the leading cause of death is the large number of weapons available and the easy access that people, including children, have to them,” he explained.

Another worrying fact: Gun violence is disproportionately affecting young adults, men, and racial and ethnic minorities, Viviana Horigian Miller, a professor of public health sciences at the Miller School.

“Of all the nearly two dozen firearms killed in crowded countries, 82 percent occur in the U.S. and 91 percent of the children killed in this national group are from the United States. How is that possible?” He said this, citing statistics from the American Public Health Association Fact Sheet and a 2015 American Journal of Medicine article comparing violent death rates around the world.

He called for the implementation of public health measures to help reduce the problem of gun violence, such as the definition and control of the problem, the identification of risk factors, the development and testing of interventions and the widespread dissemination and reception of such interventions.

“You’ll be shocked, but this model of public health — which we follow for any other disease — is not followed by gun violence,” Horigian said. “For example, Congress recently approved dollars for research on this issue. Without proper research, we don’t know what works.”

After Columbine, Sandy Hook and now Uvalde, “If we haven’t reached our extreme point yet, is it?” asked Judy Schaechter, a professor emeritus and former director of the Department of Pediatrics at Miller School who is also an advocate for the prevention of gun violence. Schaechter is now the chairman and CEO of the American Pediatric Commission.

Schaechter provided the following gun safety tips to keep children safe.

  • If you have children and a gun in the house, lock the gun and store the ammunition in a locked place.
  • If your child is visiting someone else’s home, as if you were wondering if there is an adult or if there is a dog in the house, ask if there are any weapons and ask how they are stored.
  • If someone you know, such as a family member or friend, owns a gun and is at risk for mental health concerns, try talking to them about safe storage or removal of firearms. You may keep the guns for a while until your friend is better. Research suggests that people are more likely to accept this suggestion when it comes to another gun owner.

Also, June 21 is ASK Day, called Asking Saves Kids, Cadiz said. It’s an opportunity to remind parents and caregivers of the importance of asking about home guns to prevent unwanted firearms. A simple question: “Are there any unlocked weapons in your home?” it can save your child’s life.

– Robert C. Jones Jr. contributed to this report.

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