About 500 American children and teenagers die in hospitals every year after sustaining gunshot wounds, a rate that climbed by nearly 60 percent in a decade, according to the first-ever accounting of such fatalities, released Sunday.
In addition, an estimated 7,500 kids are hospitalized annually after being wounded by gunfire, a figure that spiked by more than 80 percent from 1997 to 2009, according two Boston doctors presenting their findings at a conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, held in Orlando, Florida.
Eight of every 10 firearm wounds were inflicted by handguns, according to hospital records reviewed by the doctors. They say the national conversation about guns should shift toward the danger posed by smaller weapons, not the recent fights over limiting the availability of military-style, semi-automatic rifles.
"Handguns account for the majority of childhood gunshot wounds and this number appears to be increasing over the last decade," said Dr. Arin L. Madenci, a surgical resident at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and one of the study's two authors. "Furthermore, states with higher percentages of household firearm ownership also tended to have higher proportions of childhood gunshot wounds, especially those occurring in the home."
Among homes with children, rates of gun possession ranged from 10 percent in New Jersey to 62 percent in Montana, the researchers found.
Dr. Madenci and his colleague, Dr. Christopher Weldon, a surgeon at Boston Children's Hospital, tallied the new statistics by culling a national database of 36 million pediatric hospitalizations from 1997 to 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available.
During that period, hospitalizations of kids and teens aged 20 and younger from gunshot wounds jumped from 4,270 to 7,730. Firearm deaths of children logged by hospitals rose from 317 in 1997 to 503 in 2009, records showed.