GUNS-ONE OF THE LEADING CAUSES OF DEATH OF CHILDREN UNDER 18 IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States has the highest rates of childhood homicide, suicide, and firearm related death among industrialized countries. The overall firearm-related death rate among US. Children aged less than 15 years was nearly 12 times higher than among children in the other 25 countries combined. The firearm related homicide rate in the United States was nearly 16 times higher than that in all of the other countries combined; the firearm related suicide rate was nearly 11 times higher; and the unintentional firearm-related death rate was nine times higher. These statistics were reported by the Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. These statistics were obtained from a comprehensive study conducted in 1996. Since then published articles all discuss how firearms are one of the leading instruments of homicide, suicide and unintentional deaths among children ages 0-18 in the United States.
The California State Department of Justice expects that 725,000 rifles, pistols and shotguns will be legally purchased in 2012. The projection is that more than 100,000 more guns than were purchased last year will be purchased this year in the state. That is nearly twice as many as were purchased five years ago.
The purpose of this blog is not to weigh into the argument of whether your family should or should not own guns. It is to inform you of research that has been brought to our attention, our own experiences with youth and firearm related incidents, and to assist you in your parenting decisions regarding possession and access to guns by your children.
Garen Wintemute, M.D., is the Director of the Violence Prevention Research Program and a Professor of Emergency Medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine. He and his fellow emergency room physicians are the first doctors to see the terrible tragedies that occur because of guns. Physicians like Garen Wintemute are leading their fellow physicians in their drive to educate families and the public about the need for gun safety and are trying to promote gun control and safety laws with our legislators. Dr. Wintemute recently provided our office with a number of medical research articles by physicians on the subject of adolescents dying from gun related causes either by suicide, by homicide, and by accident He also suggested we read the book, “Private Guns Public Health (PGPH)” by David Hemenway. The number of deaths and injuries to adolescents from the use or misuse of guns is shocking. David Hemenway in his book published in 2004 sets forth that GUNS are the leading cause of death of children under the age of 18 in the United States. When he wrote the book, he was the Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. The most recently published articles on the leading causes of death don’t list GUNS as the number one cause of death for children but do list homicide, suicide, and unintentional injuries from GUNS certainly within the top five categories of youth deaths in this country.
Our law firm has handled a number of gun related cases. The most newsworthy and tragic case was the 1979 shooting by 16-year-old Brenda Spencer in San Diego, CA. From her home using a .22 rifle she received as a Christmas present, she shot at an elementary school playground across the street. She killed the principal and the custodian, wounded eight children, and shot a young police officer leaving a bullet so close to his spine it was inoperable. We represented a teenager whose home was pelted with eggs and rocks. He grabbed his parents loaded gun and chased the kids in his car. After cornering them in a cul de sac, he fired several rounds as one of the boys exited their car hitting him in the arm and shoulder. We have represented teenagers for homicide for playing with guns and shooting one of their friends. We have represented a number of young people accused of bringing guns to school or threatening to bring guns to school.
In nearly all the cases, the parents did not believe having a gun in the home was a danger to their kids or that their kids would use the gun inappropriately. Even guns other than firearms are a danger to children. “In one urban pediatric trauma center, between 1988 and 1995, six children per year (median age eleven) were hospitalized from air gun injuries. Thirty-eight percent of them had serious long-term disabilities as a result of their injuries.”
Since the Brenda Spencer incident in1979 in San Diego, there are a number of adolescents who have opened fire at schools and at students. How can we ever forget what happened in April 1999 in Littleton, CO, when two heavily armed seniors stormed Columbine High School, killing thirteen people and wounding another twenty-eight. In March 2001, a fifteen-year-old high school student in Santee, CA, fired thirty rounds from his father’s .22 caliber revolver, killing two students and wounding thirteen others. The list could go on and on.
How old do you believe a child must be before he can shoot a gun and cause terrible damage? Enrique Chavez, a now retired Los Angeles police officer, was paralyzed from the waist down when his 3-year old son shot him with his service revolver. He is in the process of suing Glock Inc. claiming the Glock 21 pistol lacks adequate safeguards against accidental discharge.
Part two of this blog will discuss some of the legal consequences to both minors and their parents from gun-related incidents. We will also discuss some strategies for parents with guns in their homes.
Email us and tell us your comments. If you would like us to do a blog on a particular subject, please let us know. Share experiences you may have had that could be helpful to others. Visit our educational videos on You Tube at JuvenileLawCenter.com or McGlinn & McGlinn, Attorneys at Law.