Firearms have become the No. 1 cause of U.S. children’s deaths — with Arkansas one of the leading states in child gun deaths — making gun safety in the home more important than ever.
In 2020 and 2021, firearm-related deaths among American children ages 1-17 surpassed deaths from any other type of accident or illness, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. There were 2,571 child deaths due to firearms in 2021, or 3.7 deaths per 100,000 children, a 107% increase since 2013. Provisional CDC data indicate that firearms continued to be the top factor in child deaths in 2022.
Arkansas is one of the worst states for child and teen gun deaths, according to the CDC. In 2020, there were 9.8 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 Arkansans ages 0-19, the fifth-highest rate in the nation.
Among similarly large and wealthy nations, no nation even comes close to the United States’ rate of firearm deaths among children and teens. KFF compared CDC data for the U.S. for 2021 with Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation data for other nations for 2019, the most recent year available, and found that the U.S. firearm mortality rate for people ages 1-19 — 6 deaths per 100,000 children and teens — was 10 times higher than the next-highest rate, which was 0.6 deaths per 100,000 children and teens in Canada.
A national survey conducted in 2021 by researchers with Northeastern University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 40% of adults with children lived in households with firearms. Firearms were unlocked in 36% of the households and were loaded in 37% of the households.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states on its website that “the safest home for a child is one without guns,” but that if parents choose to keep firearms in the home, the weapons should be stored safely. Teaching kids about gun safety, or not to touch a gun if they find it, “is not enough,” according to AAP.
AAP recommends the following safe storage practices:
- All guns in your home should be locked and unloaded, with ammunition locked separately.
- Make sure children and teens can’t access the keys or combinations to lock boxes or gun safes.
- Remember not to keep loaded, unlocked guns in the car or anywhere else on your property.
When using firearms for hunting or target practice, AAP recommends:
- Keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it.
- Before setting the gun down, always unload it.
- As much as a child may want to take a turn shooting, this is not a good idea. No matter how much instruction you may give about how to safely shoot a gun, children are not capable or responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon.
Anyone born after 1968 is required to complete a hunter education course and carry a valid hunter education card to hunt in Arkansas. Information about hunter education courses, including online courses, is available on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website.