Adopted by Council on October 28, 2000; Updated May, 2008
Approved by Council June 14, 2013

Guns are an unfortunate and dangerous reality in the lives of our children and adolescents. It is estimated that 50 million Americans own over 200 million guns. Over one-third of all homes contain guns, and despite continuing educational efforts, the majority of these guns are kept loaded, unlocked and potentially accessible to children. Research indicates that if a gun is stored in a home, the risk of homicide increases threefold and the risk of suicide increases fivefold. Guns also are 43 times as likely to be used to kill a family member or someone known to a family than to kill a stranger.

Children and adolescents have easy access to guns. Over 5% of high school students indicated that they carried a gun in the past month, and it is estimated that approximately one million children bring guns to school each year. Many students who carry guns do so because they are afraid or influenced by peer pressure.

The United States has the highest rates of firearm-related deaths among industrialized countries, including homicide, suicide and unintentional deaths; young people are often the victims. Gun violence accounts for over 3,000 deaths and over 15,000 injuries each year among children and adolescents. The rate of firearm-related homicides for U.S. children younger than 15 years of age is nearly 16 times greater than the rates in 25 other industrialized countries combined.

Gun violence is a product of many issues in our society including the erosion of the infrastructure necessary to support healthy child development. Some of these supports include adequate funding for comprehensive healthcare, including coverage for mental illness and substance abuse treatment, safe, affordable and appropriate housing, and effective education for all children.

The most effective measure to help prevent firearm-related deaths and injuries to children and adolescents is to reduce the presence of guns in homes and communities. This is particularly critical for homes or families in which the threat of personal violence exists.

The AACAP supports all efforts to educate children and the general public about the danger of guns, and the increased risk of accidental injury and death associated with gun ownership. Access to firearms by youth must be restricted, controlled and closely supervised, due to the inherent impulsivity in this population. The AACAP further supports increased funding for research on gun safety, the prevention of gun related violence, and the mental health needs of children and families affected by gun related violence. Additionally, the AACAP encourages the strict enforcement of existing laws pertaining to the purchase, ownership and storage of firearms, as well as safety measures such as trigger locks, extended waiting periods, mandatory background checks for all transactions related to gun ownership, and other initiatives designed to protect children and reduce the incidence of gun related violence. The AACAP also supports increased funding for the treatment of children exposed to or affected by gun related violence. Finally the AACAP believes that child and adolescent psychiatrists and other physicians must be able to ask patients and their parents about the presence of and access to firearms in the home, and opposes legislative efforts to limit, restrict or interfere with such clinical inquiries by physicians.

Statistics are taken from the National Health Information Network, www.neahin.org, 2008.

This is a Policy Statement of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.