More restrictive gun laws correlate with lower adolescent gun-related deaths, a study led by Stanford Medical School pediatric surgeon Stephanie Chao ’02 found.
According to Chao’s team — which included pediatric surgery postdoctoral research fellow Jordan Taylor and Sriraman Madhavan M.S. ’18 — states such as Arizona, which has more lenient gun policies, witnessed nearly twice the number of adolescent gun deaths compared to states with comparatively stringent gun laws, such as California.
The team’s findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in November of 2018.
According to Chao, a child in the United States is 82 times more likely to die in a firearm-related incident than is a child in any other developed nation. Although the rates of gun-related homicides vary depending on numerous factors — including education and community location — fewer variables factor into overall gun-related adolescent deaths. For example, the study found that firearm-related mortality rates for children did not depend significantly on their socioeconomic backgrounds.
Instead, Chao believes those deaths are mainly affected by unemployment rates and legislation.
“Firearm legislation on the state level could be an avenue for addressing this public health crisis,” Taylor said. “Healthcare providers and researchers can be instrumental in providing high quality data to inform the discussion.”
Although the study did not examine specific laws states can implement to prevent adolescent firearm deaths, Chao said gun control legislation specific to children is important. Only 27 states have enacted a form of Child Access Prevention laws, which are intended to keep guns away from children.
“I’m not advocating taking guns away from people,” said Chao. “Everyone can agree, even if you’re super pro-NRA, [that] no one wants to see our children harmed by firearms.”
Chao said that she and her colleagues encourage parents to have open discussions with their children about gun safety and to take stronger measures to secure their firearms. For example, Chao recommends that parents remove firearms from their home if they have a child that struggles with mental illness.
“A lot of people have firearms in their homes, and that’s certainly an individual’s rights,” Chao said. “A lot of parents think, ‘If I don’t tell my kids there’s a gun in the house, then they won’t know it,’ and that’s a false assumption.”
Looking forward, Chao said she hopes more measures will be taken to implement stringent gun legislation in order to prevent adolescent firearm-related deaths.
In her own research, she draws on her experience as a pediatric surgeon, during which she operated on patients brought in with “horrific” gunshot injuries.
“We are the ones who have to go out and talk to the families of these victims afterwards and tell them what we found and that sometimes we can’t save their loved one,” Chao said. “And this is not a part of the job that any of us like to do.”
Chao plans to continue researching the cost of gun-related deaths and trends in the demographic groups they most affect.
“Our study is not anti-gun,” Chao said. “Our study is pro-children.”