Gun ownership in the United States has been on the decline with fewer American households owning firearms now compared to 40 years ago. But while gun ownership rates have gone down, firearm-related death rates among young children have gone up. Now, a new study shows that despite a decline in overall gun ownership, an increase in handguns may explain rising child gun-related deaths among non-Hispanic white families.
In Family Firearm Ownership and Firearm-Related Mortality Among Young Children: 1976–2016, a study published this month in the Pediatrics journal, lead author Kate Prickett sought to examine how changes in firearm ownership among American families with children aged 5 and younger may relate to a recent increase in firearm-related deaths among children of that age group. According to Prickett, children age 5 and younger have actually seen an increase in firearm-related deaths despite an overall decline in the rate of child firearm-related deaths.
"What's so puzzling about this is that firearm ownership has continued to decline over this time," Prickett said in a video abstract shared by Pediatrics. "So, if firearm ownership among families is going down, why then have we seen this recent increase among our youngest population?"
Prickett and her team found that the number of non-Hispanic white families residing in America with young children who own firearms decreased from 50 percent to 45 percent from 1976 to 2016. But as overall gun ownership declined, handgun ownership among white families appeared to increase.
According to the study, the number of white households with young children who own handguns has increased from 25 percent in 1976 to 32 percent in 2016. In fact, Prickett found that 72 percent of families who own firearms and have young children in 2016 had a handgun.
Prickett believes this increase in handgun ownership may partially explain the recent increase of firearm-related deaths among young white children. She estimates that for every one percent increase we see in the number of families who own handguns, the firearm-related mortality rate in white children will rise by nearly 0.5 percent.
Part of the issue may be that handguns are reportedly more likely than rifles to be stored loaded or in an accessible place, Prickett said. She also mentioned young children's ability to operate a handgun as a potential factor, citing studies which have shown that children as young as two possess enough strength to fire a handgun.
It's important to note that Prickett and her team reportedly weren't able to study the impact that handgun ownership may have on gun-related deaths among young African American, Asian, or Hispanic children.
In their study, Prickett's team noted that gun ownership among African American families fell from 38 percent in 1976 to just 6 percent in 2016. However, the researchers told CNN there wasn't enough data for them to make reliable conclusions on the trends seen in African American families. According to the cable news outlet, firearm-related child mortality rates "are typically higher" among African American families "despite lower rates of gun ownership."