Skip to main content

Stricter firearm laws would slash children’s deaths

Strong child access prevention laws would reduce risk of death by 29%

Stronger pediatric firearm laws would have resulted in significantly fewer children’s deaths by firearms, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Nearly 4,000 children’s deaths by firearms between 1991-2016 could have been prevented with the strongest form of child access prevention (CAP) firearm laws, the study found. That’s a 29% reduction in risk of death by firearms of children ages 14 and younger. 

“These findings show that there is a large reduction in pediatric firearm deaths in states that have passed laws holding parents responsible for the safe storage of firearms,” said first study author Hooman Azad, a third-year MD/MPH student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Five hundred children die each year from firearm violence. These deaths happen at much higher rates in certain states, and the passage of these laws seems to be associated with reductions in those rates.”

The study was published March 2 in JAMA Pediatrics.

“We found significant reductions in all firearm deaths -- homicides, suicides and unintentional deaths,” Azad said.

Out of 50 states, only four have the most stringent form of child access prevention law, Azad said. Illinois has a negligence firearm law, but it is the weakest form of negligence law.

“Illinois has much higher rates of firearm violence than other states with stronger negligence laws, such as Massachusetts, which means it’s especially important that we recognize just how effective these laws may be,” Azad said.

During the period of the study, there were 654 pediatric firearm fatalities in Illinois. States with more stringent laws had much fewer fatalities, such as Massachusetts with only 67 firearm fatalities over the same period. 

Only 16 states in the U.S. have child access prevention negligence laws, which were shown in the study to actually have an impact on pediatric firearm fatality rates. The less stringent recklessness laws don’t have a deterrent effect. The laws are meant to protect children from accessing firearms by holding a parent or guardian responsible for the actions or potential actions a child takes with a firearm.

There are many types of CAP laws ranging from simple recklessness laws to at least three levels of negligence laws. In this analysis, the researchers ranked the laws from least to most restrictive based upon the obligations imposed on the gun owner/parent.

Dr. Karen Sheehan, a study coauthor, is a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.