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Save your kid's life: Ask about guns
June 21st, 2011
03:33 PM ET

Save your kid's life: Ask about guns

In addition to being CNNHealth’s Living Well expert, Dr. Jennifer Shu is a practicing pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also blogs regularly for The Chart on kids’ health.

In the days when my son had playdates at our house with new toddler friends, I used a standard line: “Does your child have any allergies? And just so you know, we don’t have any pets or guns in our house.”

At the risk of going seemingly overboard before a visit, I wanted to volunteer some information in hopes of reassuring the child’s parents about any safety concerns they might have. My added hope was that they would then share information about a dog in their home (since my son was allergic) or guns they might have that are unloaded and locked out of reach from the kids, etc. for my own future reference.

Fortunately I never was in the situation of needing to use a child’s allergy autoinector during a playdate and I don’t have a swimming pool that a little one could accidentally fall into - and I can’t tell you the number of times a patient has reported an injury from a trampoline or a fall down the stairs at someone else’s house - but these safety issues are more common than one would like to think.

The idea of asking and telling comes to mind since June 21 (the first day of summer every year) is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day and specifically addresses the question “Is there a gun where my child plays?” Over 40% of children under age 18 live in a home with a firearm, and many of these firearms are loaded and unlocked. Further, firearm injuries are the second-leading cause of death between 1 and 21 years of age.

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to firearm injuries as the leading cause of death between ages 1 and 21.]

The concept of health care professionals asking about guns has garnered a lot of press now that new law in Florida prohibits physicians from counseling patients about gun safety in the home. The American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other health advocates steadfastly oppose such legislation. For more information, a commentary from AAP President Dr. Marion Burton, can be found here: http://www.aap.org/president. But even if physicians can’t legally ask about gun safety in the home, other parents can.

We all have our safety concerns when our children are in the care of others, from food allergies to animal bites to gun safety and more. Rather than being left wondering, aren’t you better off asking?


soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. SurRy

    "...new law in Florida prohibits physicians from counseling patients about gun safety in the home." Why am I not surprised it is the backward state of Florida that is trampling on First Amendment rights. State is a cesspool full of knuckledraggers.

    June 22, 2011 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      has nothing to do with the First Amendment and doctors are still allowed to give info to their patients.

      June 22, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
  2. Fionnros

    I'm actually disappointed this is considered "reporting".
    According to American Academy of Pediatrics, car accidents are considered the leading cause of injury and death among children. Drownings come in second. http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/safety.cfm

    Wikipedia made a cute little chart here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leading_causes_of_death_among_children_worldwide.svg

    The CDC confirms, http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/childpas.htm

    At the very best most sites report that the #1 cause is "accident" but doesn't specify what kind of accident. It would be anything from accidentally falling out of a high tree fort, to a UN-educated child getting their hands on an unsecured firearm. In my opinion, the one sure way to handle the firearm issue being addressed in this article, is to educate your children about firearms. Teach them, and show them on a regular basis will take the "curious" factor out of the scenario. Keeping the ammo and guns in completely separate places of the house will help a great deal as well.
    Every one of these precautions I am talking about are basic firearm safety rules, each and every state and gun club teach.

    And to be honest, Florida physician shouldn't have to counsel about gun safety. It's not their job. It's the parent's job to TEACH their children about the dangers of the world, and the biggest danger happens to be other people.

    June 22, 2011 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dave

    Dr Shu... Helloooo.... Anyone home? Any chance on getting you to completely correct this article?

    June 22, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Brendan Perez

    I always find it objectionable that guns are singled out for articles like this when firearm accident are usually near the bottom of the list as far as causes of death.

    The CDC says that the leading cause of injury death for 1-4 year olds is drowning, and the NHTSA and other traffic groups say that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for (depending on the year) 4-24 year olds; some years it was 6-25, etc.

    So you should make sure to add that while you don't have pets or guns, you do have cars, buckets, bathtubs, possibly a swimming pool, and a whole variety of things that each individually contribute to more deaths among young people than
    guns accidents.

    Within the broad category of unintentional death, which includes car crashes, poisoning and drowning are next followed by firearms. Firearms are usually 1/3 to 1/4 the number of drowning deaths in any given year

    Homicide is the #2 cause among 15-24 year olds and suicide the third. Suicide is the 6th leading cause among 5-14 year olds. Interestingly enough among 5-14 year olds, cancer is usually #2 or #3 as their killer, alternating with homicide for the other spot in any given year.

    So, gun accidents do kill a small number of kids (young and old) each year. But, drowning, poison, falls, parental abuse, etc. each separately kill more then gun accidents. Keeping guns out of the house may prevent a few accidents, but so
    would proper storage and education. Of course, keeping kids out of cars would save far more.

    Kids whose parents have guns and don't secure them are a problem. Teaching your own kids to get out when another kid plays with guns goes a long way.

    It might also help to instill in kids a sense of understanding of other people's property ie., the gun doesn't belong to you, thus you have no business playing with it.
    So, teach your kid to stay away from kids who don't respect the property of others (including their parents), it may keep your kid from being caught up in some legal trouble because his friend shoplifts or burglarizes and fences the goods to your kid. Heck, go further and teach your kid to avoid kids who don't respect the rights of others-this may keep your kid from being 'guilty by association' with a kid who beats or violates people or is simply a legal liability to be around.

    No guns in the house may prevent a very small number of suicides (which are not accidents), but proper treatment of and for depression would save far mode. Homicides (also not accidents) don't seem to change much. Many countries with strong gun control still have high violent crime, homicide, and suicide rates because the actor just changes methods-slitting wrists or overdose instead of gun for suicide OR fists, sticks, knives, fire instead of guns for homicide.

    Suggesting that parents learn to recognize the signs of a drowning child could probably save more lives then not having guns. Hint for those who don't know:it's nothing like the movies and is sometimes mistaken for playing or splashing.

    In the end, pretending that simply not having guns really makes a house safe is absurd and unbecoming a seemingly educated person like a doctor.

    June 22, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. enough

    From the National Center for Health Statistics
    National Vital Statistics Reports March 7, 2005

    Under the category of Unintentional Deaths and does not include homicide:

    Child deaths ages 5-9
    * Motor Vehicle Traffic 621 20.58%
    * Drowning 159 5.27%
    * Fire/burn 153 5.07%
    * Suffocation 40 1.33%
    * Other Land Transport 33 1.09%
    * Pedestrian, Other 27 0.89%
    * Struck by or Against 20 0.66%
    * Unspecified 20 0.66%
    * Fall 18 0.60%
    * Other Spec., classifiable 17 0.56%
    * Poisoning 15 0.50%
    * Firearm 14 0.46%

    Young Teen deaths ages 10-14
    * MV Traffic 874 21.15%
    * Drowning 162 3.92%
    * Fire/burn 101 2.44%
    * Other Land Transport 80 1.94%
    * Suffocation 70 1.69%
    * Firearm 34 0.82%

    Older Teen deaths ages 15-19
    * Motor Vehicle Traffic 5522 39.98%
    * Poisoning 486 3.52%
    * Drowning 320 2.32%
    * Firearm 107 0.77%

    In 1999, the 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:
    *214 unintentional (down to 155 in 2005)
    *1,078 suicides
    *1,990 homicides

    Of the total firearms-related deaths:
    *2,896 were 15-19 years old

    Perhaps people should first ask if another parent has a pool, or if they lock up their household chemicals to prevent accidental poisoning.

    The statistics used by AAP and ASK use suicides and homicides to pad the numbers to make firearm accidents seem very common, the reality is that most of those deaths are by older teens and legal adults who fall into the "teen" category. The AAP loses credibility by lumping firearm accidents of preschool children together with homicidal adult gang violence.

    June 22, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dave

    For 2007
    Accidental deaths from firearms, ages 0-17 = 112
    .
    Accidental deaths from vehicles, pedestrians age 0-17 = 497
    .
    Yep, your kids are more than 4X at risk just walking down the street than they are from a firearm in the house.

    June 22, 2011 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dave

    In 2007
    .
    .
    All firearm deaths, age 0-21 = 4725
    .
    Remove the adults and you get:
    .
    All firearm deaths, age 0-17 = 1520
    .
    Remove homicides and you get:
    .
    Non-homicide firearm deaths, age 0-17 = 482
    .
    Eliminate suicides and you get:
    .
    Accidental firearm deaths, age 0-17 = 112

    June 22, 2011 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dave

    Again, if Dr Shu wants to get ACCURATE DATA and LEARN THE TRUTH, she can contact me at hidden.warrior1(at)gmail.com

    June 22, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. chuck

    As many of you feel so confident to quote data from the CDC to support your argument, you should be reminded that researchers at the CDC that study violence were threatened to have their funding pulled if they investigated guns. So your data is biased. While the AAP data may be inaccurately presented (I agree that lumping all those causes of death is not right), you are arguing against the fact that guns are a significant source of death for children in this country. Breaking deaths down by what is accidental and what is a homicide is short sighted. Also, why does one get to eliminate everyone between age 18-21. Pediatricians care for patients up to 21 years. The bottom line is that firearms getting into the hands of minors is dangerous. Pediatricians should be able to educate families on common causes of death that can affect their patients-including guns.

    June 22, 2011 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      The CDC's ability to gather data was not threatened. There were restrictions placed on the CDC regarding donations and playing politics, but the data they gather really has not changed. So no, the data is not biased.
      Further, I can go back to the 1990s when the CDC was authoring hit pieces and still debunk the AAP/Dr Shu's claims.
      Pediatricians sometimes see older patients, simply becauce there is a history between the patient and doctor, but generally they stop seeing patients when they turn 18.
      Additionally, an 18 year old can live in their own home, away from parents, they can legally own their own firearms, and in many cases can purchase firearms. They are legally adults and responsible for their own actions.
      Nothing in the Florida law prevents doctors from providing firearm safety information.

      June 22, 2011 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
  10. Dr. Jennifer Shu

    For those of you wondering about the source of the statistic regarding firearms being the second leading cause of death in ages 1 to 21 years, this was derived from the CDC/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Data and Statistics (WISQARS). Adding the firearms numbers from within Unintentional Injury, Homicides and Suicides, the total is higher than every other category besides motor vehicle accidents. Many pediatricians see patients until age 21 which is why this upper age limit was used. Again, this piece is about what concerns you have about your child's safety while in someone else's home, whether it's allergies, pets, childproofing, drugs, guns, etc. and not about one's choice to have guns in the home. Thanks!

    June 22, 2011 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      I also have used the WISQARS data.

      June 22, 2011 at 22:25 | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      " Again, this piece is... not about one's choice to have guns in the home"
      .
      Sorry, but the way this article was written, it most certainly is about that. Most of the article focuses on firearms. You took a jab at the new Florida law regarding firearms. You use muddled figures regarding firearms. Everything else is just kind of mentioned in passing.

      June 23, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse |
  11. Dave

    Dr Shu,
    .
    Again, we are talking about INJURY causes, not ALL causes.
    .
    The reason for NOT including 18-21 is because 18 year olds can legally own their own firearms and are personally responsible for their use. Your own article uses under 18 for one stat and then 1-21 for another stat. You have to compare like things in order to have a valid argument. Therefore, 0-17 is the most correct data set to use. Bearing in mind that this is the age of the victim, not the age of the shooter and so includes things like a murder-suicide committed by a parent, in which case safe storage laws are a non-issue.
    .
    And again, the AAP's advice is "Get Rid Of The Guns!" The idea that firearms can safely be in the same home as children is kind of a secondary message for the AAP and many doctors adopt exactly the same message, and that bothers a lot of people.
    .
    If you as a parent want to ask as a parent, that is fine, but if the answer is "yes, we have firearms", some hoplophobic parents will forbid visits even if the firearms are stored properly.
    .
    Even if you do not have firearms in your house, it is a darn good idea to teach your kids about firearms. This is nearly ignored by most parents and by the AAP.
    .
    And you STILL have mischaracterized the Florida law.

    June 22, 2011 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kim Smith

    Reader Dave did a MUCH better job of reporting the facts than the author of this post. I hate it when people stack the data in misleading ways in order to try to add legitimacy to their bias, especially a doctor, someone you would think would be, oh, I don't know, logical and base their arguments on real facts. FYI–a kid has a better chance of dying at the hands of thier parent or caretaker than by an accidental firearm discharge in any given year.

    June 22, 2011 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Dave

    Questions to ask other parents: "Have your children been taught firearm safety? If so, to what level? Have they participated in an Eddie Eagle program? Formal firearm safety/hunter safety? Have they ever fired a firearm?"

    June 22, 2011 at 22:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. citylightz

    Dr. Shu,

    This quite a propaganda piece against guns. Not very well done but a good attempt. You may be interested in some statistics regarding doctors . . .

    It's impressive how convincing statistics can be.

    Here is something that a friend (ER Nurse) sent to me a while back:

    Doctors vs. Gun owners

    Doctors
    (A) The number of physicians in the U.S. is 700,000.
    (B) Accidental deaths caused by Physicians per year are 120,000.
    (C) Accidental deaths per physician is 0.171.

    Statistics courtesy of U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services.
    Now think about this:

    Guns
    (A) The number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80,000,000.
    (Yes, that's 80 million)
    (B) The number of accidental gun deaths per year, all age groups, is
    1,500.
    (C) The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is .000188.
    Statistics courtesy of FBI
    So, statistically, doctors are approximately
    9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners.

    > >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Remember, 'Guns don't kill people, doctors do.'
    FACT: NOT EVERYONE HAS A GUN, BUT

    ALMOST EVERYONE HAS AT LEAST ONE DOCTOR.

    Please alert your friends to this alarming threat.

    We must ban doctors before this gets completely out of hand!

    Out of concern for the public at large,

    I withheld the statistics on lawyers for fear the shock would cause
    people to panic and seek medical attention!

    June 22, 2011 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dave

    Dr Shu, et al,
    .
    While I am at it, let's look at the claim, "Over 40% of children under age 18 live in a home with a firearm". This is not what the AAP's own referenced data says.
    .
    The AAP's refenced data comes from "Prevalence of Household Firearms and Firearm-Storage Practices in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: Findings From the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002". It says:
    .
    "Nationally, 32.6% of adults reported that firearms were kept in or around their home. The prevalence of adults with household firearms ranged from 5.2% in the District of Columbia to 62.8% in Wyoming (median: 40.8%). " - Note that this is NOT the data for households with children, it is for ALL households, children or not. The AAP's referenced study does NOT give a percentage of households AND firearms.
    .
    For households with children, the AAP's refenced data only talks to those with loaded firearms (5.3%) and loaded an unlocked firearms (2.3%) (both found in Table 2). Compare those two categories for households with children, to the same categories for ALL households - loaded (7%), loaded and unlocked (4.2%)(both found in Table 1).
    .
    Anyone wanting to read the study can find it at pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/3/e370.full.pdf

    June 22, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. chuck

    Dave,
    I agree entirely with your statement that, "...it is a darn good idea to teach your kids about guns." What you said is an example of good parenting.

    I personally spoke with the researcher (in 2004) at the CDC who had his funding threatened while investigating gun violence during the years of Bush administration; so, your statement that the CDC's ability to gather data was not threatened is inaccurate. The data is biased when appointed officials, that have a political bias, are responsible for disbursing funds for research that influences the health of Americans. You can deny that fact all you want, but you are sticking your head in the sand.

    Most pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists (outside of the ER) see kids until 21 years of age. Dave,you are wrong.

    Using age 18 as your criterion for adulthood is favorable to your argument. You could use age 16 (the legal driving age in many states), or 21 (the legal drinking age in the country), or 25 (the age which one can rent a car), or age 14 (which is the age one can legally marry in Alabama). The reality is that the level of maturity of a high school graduate vs one entering their senior year of college is vastly different. Choosing a number out of thin air does not make one a mature adult. Waking up on your 18th birthday does not make a person magically responsible and mature enough to own a gun. Owning firearms and safely handling and storing them requires maturity and responsibility.

    Dr. Shu is working as an advocate for children, including the children of all the people in this blog who are criticizing her article. Amazingly, you choose to split hairs over small percentages which rank the incidence of firearms injuries/deaths to children. You have failed to grasp the point of the article; but, instead are focusing on a few numbers from the CDC. Dr. Shu specifically discusses other causes of injuries in homes (trampolines, pets, pools). And most responsible pediatricians will discuss a variety of other issues to ensure a child's safety during well child checks (water temperature at home, having children sleep on their backs, not turning your back on a child at a changing table, sun exposure etc....). Firearms make the top 10 of all of your lists so discussing their dangers is warranted. You are missing the big picture, and not acting as responsible adults by making the safety of all children (including yours) secondary. You are an advocate for fire arms owners. If this issue was about pool safety, you probably would agree with the article. Move on, Dr. Shu is looking out for your kids.

    June 22, 2011 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      Chuck,
      I think you are confusing "doing research" and the national surveillance system. The national surveillance system, which is where the data published in the NVSS and WISQARS was not threatened. What was threatened was where people took the data and did studies and research using it or supplemental surveys. What was happening was that the CDC was actually getting funding from outside sources (such as the Joyce Foundation) to do anti-gun studies. Again, the national surveillance system was not part of the issue and was not threatened and their data has not been compromised or biased.
      .
      I do not know what the peds in your area are like, but generally, the peds I have seen stop seeing patients around 18. Sometimes this is at the insistance of the insurance companies. This was the case with my own kids. Regardless, at age 18, people are allowed to own handguns, rifles, and shotguns on their own, are allowed to buy rifles and shotgun from dealers, and allowed to buy rifles, shotguns, and handguns from private sales, and the 18 year old is fully responsible for the use or misuse of the firearm – not the parents. Therefore, using up through 21 is in fact the wrong thing to do.
      .
      I fully grasp the point of the article. And in fact I have supported a parent asking another parent about firearms. But Dr Shu herself went beyond the main point of her article, taking a shot at the new Florida law and mischaracterizing it, and giving misleading data. Dr Shu brought up the issues, therefore they are fair game. I focused my response on those areas I disagree with.
      .
      And if the data and laws regarding pools was misrepresented, I would correct her.

      June 23, 2011 at 00:18 | Report abuse |
  17. Todd

    What a horrible article slanted in view and full of ignorance and misinformation It is not surprising it contained false statistics on deaths of children. Dr. Jennifer Shu has no business being published and if her medicine is anywhere near as flawed as her writing she's been responsible for more deaths than violence and religion put together.

    Anyone publishing this kind of nonsense has lost my respect.

    June 23, 2011 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      Dr Shu is probably a great doctor. And her heart is certainly in the right place. She simply appears to be one of millions of people who repeat what they have been told and probably don't know a lot about things like firearms. A lot of Americans have been brainwashed into the "Guns'R'Evil" club and sadly, the AAP has become one of the apostolic organizations for this movement.

      June 23, 2011 at 18:11 | Report abuse |
  18. HealthyState

    Florida law says that doctors can't ask about guns in the home. See more about the ASK campaign and gunshot survivors in this video: http://healthystate.org/archives/13084

    June 23, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      The Florida law does not stop the doctors from providing firearm safety info. They can do that without asking if firearms are in the home.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
  19. Dave

    While I am talking about the 40.8% figure above, it should also be noted that the is the MEDIAN figure, not the AVERAGE figure. For those who do not know the difference, here is an example. Given 1, 1, 1, 8, 8, 8, and 8. The AVERAGE is 5, but the MEDIAN is 8. By using the higher median figure of 40.8% instead of the average figure of 32.6%, the article is more likely to create fear and appeal to emotion. Not saying that 32.6% should be dismissed, just saying that 32.6% is a good bit less than 40.8%.

    June 23, 2011 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Beth

    When my son was in kindergarten I took him to the pediatrician. The doctor always asked my son to answer certain safety questions regarding seatbelts, bike helmets and guns. I was stunned when my son said he had handled a gun. We didn't own a gun and I had taught him to NEVER EVER TOUCH A GUN! He should go get an adult if he sees one. Well he had been playing at his friends house and the dad who was "watching" the boys was actually napping. His friend pulled out Dad's gun and they played with it. My son reassured me that it was ok because " it was the kind of gun that kills animals, not people". I thought I was going to cry. I could have lost my son that day because I assumed my child was being cared for when instead the perfect storm was brewing. When I confronted the family the Dad at first denied having a gun, then said his son didn't know where he kept his gun. My child never played at that house again. From that day forward I always asked if there were guns in any house he went to visit. The bottom line is young children can't be relied on to understand the dangers involved and react accordingly when it comes to guns. Who cares if the statistics are accurate or not? Children die from guns. It is tragic when it happens. Lets get the word out to parents. The gun lobby needs to stop with the knee-jerk reactions. Start caring about kids. Nothing in this article suggests they are talking about taking your guns away.

    June 23, 2011 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      "Children die from guns. It is tragic when it happens."
      .
      No one has said otherwise. It is tragic when they die, regardless of means.
      .
      " The gun lobby needs to stop with the knee-jerk reactions. Start caring about kids."
      .
      The "gun lobby" is the premier advocate of safety regarding firearms and the premier firearm safety instructor. Few if any do more to promote firearm safety. The "gun lobby" simply wants people to tell the truth regarding the issue.
      .
      "Nothing in this article suggests they are talking about taking your guns away."
      .
      Please read the AAP's guidance on the issue. Its primary stance is "Get Rid Of The Guns".

      June 24, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
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