Emergency room visits for gun injuries among children doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a national study of data from nine U.S. pediatric hospital emergency departments.
The study, published this week in the academic journal Pediatrics, also found the percentage of children who died in the hospital as the result of a gunshot wound doubled during the same period.
Researchers identified a total of 1,904 emergency department visits in the study before and during the pandemic — 694 between January 2017 to February 2020, and 1,210 between March 2020 and November 2022. The study found 52.3% of the children were 15 to 17 years old, 80% male and 63.5% non-Hispanic Black.
Deaths in the hospital as a result of the injuries increased from 3.1% before the pandemic to 6.1% during the pandemic.
“Really no child is immune to the growing risks of firearm violence in this country,” said Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann, lead author of the study and a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, per CBS News.
Black children suffered the greatest number of gunshot injuries and deaths, the research showed.
“During the pandemic, Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic children experienced disproportionate increases in firearm injuries with significant increases above expected levels,” Hoffman said, per Forbes. “Some studies did not identify any change to the racial and ethnic breakdown of pediatric firearm injuries during the pandemic, while others found post-pandemic increases in the proportion of firearm injuries by Black children only.”
Why did gun injuries increase?
Emergency department data about the intent of an injury is prone to misclassification, Hoffmann told CBS News, but other research suggests that the rise in gun-related visits is likely a combination of accidental injuries, self-harm and assault among children.
“Many factors contributed to increased pediatric firearm injuries during the early pandemic. There was a period of increased firearm purchasing, there was economic uncertainty and there was an increase in mental health concerns among children,” she said.
As some of those early stressors diminished, schools reopened and life started to return to normal, some experts expected that the injury trends would improve. But Hoffman said there was a “pretty dramatic increase right at the start of the pandemic, and then those elevated levels of firearm injuries persisted,” CBS News reported.
Researchers say access to guns stored unsafely in the home might have contributed to increases in self-inflicted and unintentional firearm injuries. At the same time, psychosocial stressors and financial strains related to the pandemic may have led to increases in assault and self-inflicted gun injuries.
Guns are leading cause of death among young people
Firearms are the leading cause of death in children and young people up to 24 years old in the United States, surpassing deaths from car crashes since 2017, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“A multipronged approach with layers of protection focused on harm reduction, which has been successful in decreasing motor vehicle-related injuries, is essential to decrease firearm injuries and deaths in children and youth. Interventions should be focused on the individual, household, community and policy levels,” the academy says.
The academy recommends child access prevention laws, universal background checks, buyer regulations, extreme risk protection orders, and bans on semiautomatic military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, among other measures.