Children and Guns
Adopted by Council on October 28, 2000; Updated May, 2008, and June, 2016
To be reviewed April 2021
Danger from firearms is a disturbing reality in the lives of our children and adolescents. Almost one-third of all homes contain guns1 with estimates that 50 million Americans own 300 million guns. 2 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 up to fivefold.3
Children and adolescents have easy access to guns. Over 5% of high school students indicated that they carried a gun in the past month,4 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. Research on brain development demonstrates that young children have difficulty accurately assessing risk, and that adolescents are actually drawn to risk taking behavior. These developmental considerations make access to guns particularly dangerous for children and adolescents.
The United States has the highest rates of firearm-related deaths among industrialized countries, including homicide, suicide, and unintentional deaths;5 and young people are often the victims. Gun violence accounts for almost 4,000 deaths and over 15,000 injuries each year among children and adolescents.6 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.7
Child and adolescent psychiatrists have been active in advocating for reasonable firearm policies. AACAP believes that 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. AACAP also 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. Due to their inherent impulsivity, any and all access to firearms by youth must be restricted, controlled and closely supervised. AACAP further supports increased funding for research on gun safety and the prevention of gun related violence, and opposes legislative efforts to restrict or inhibit such initiatives. Additionally, 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. Finally, AACAP opposes legislative efforts to limit, restrict, or interfere with clinical inquiries by physicians about the presence of and access to firearms in the home, as such inquiries are essential to a comprehensive safety assessment.
This is a Policy Statement of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Anglemyer, Andrew, Horvath, Tara,. and Rutherford, George. “The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members.” Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 160, No. 2, January 2014.
Boyd, M. Denise, and Sege, Robert D., “Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population.” American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention Executive Committee, 2012.
Hemenway, David and Solnick, Sara. “Children and unintentional firearm death.” Inj Epidemiol, 2015; 2(1): 26.
Johnson, Sara B., Blum, Robert W. , Giedd, Jay N.. Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy. J Adolesc Health. 2009 Sep; 45(3): 216–221.
Kalesan, Bindu. Gun ownership and social gun culture.” Injury Prevention. June 2015.
PEW Research Center Survey, February 2013.
Steinberg L. Should the science of adolescent brain development inform public policy? Am Psychol. 2009 Nov; 64 (8):739-50.
Brent DA, Miller MJ, Loeber R, Mulvey EP, and Birmaher B. “Ending the Silence on Gun Violence.” JAACAP. 52 (4): 333-338, 2013.
Source of Statistics Cited:
- Injury Prevention, Brief Report, 29 June 2015, Gun ownership and social gun culture, Bindu Kalesan, Marcos D Villarreal, Katherine M Keyes, Sandro Galea
- Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, http://www.bradycampaign.org/risks-of-having-a-gun-in-the-home
- Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2013
- Grinshteyn,Erin, and Hemenway, David. “Violent Death Rates: The United States Compared to Other High-Income OECD Countries, 2010.” The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 129, Issue 3 (March 2016)