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Childhood Gun Deaths Up 60 Percent Since 1997

Heaven Coker, 12, attends a candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, in honor of slain teacher Michael Landsberry and two 12-year-old students who were injured after a fellow student open fire at the school on Monday, before turning the gun on himself.

CREDIT: AP/Cathleen Allison.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study indicating an increase in gun-related deaths in children and teenagers, specifically between 1997 and 2009 gun-related child fatalities increased by 60 percent.

It analyzed household gun ownership and childhood gun violence throughout the country, and hypothesized that increasing household gun ownership is significantly associated with increasing proportion of childhood gunshot wounds occurring in the home.

Over 7,500 children are annually hospitalized by gunshot wounds, including over 500 in-hospital deaths.

Although household gun ownership varies widely state-to-state, the study found a significant relationship between the percentage of household gun ownership and the percentage of gunshot wounds occurring in the home.

Of course, a household simply having a gun in it does not inherently mean a child will be harmed by it. Often gun owners who have children, keep their guns locked up and not loaded, making them inaccessible to kids. Arkansas leads the nation with the highest rate of unlocked and loaded guns in households with children, according to ThinkProgress.

According to Children’s Defense, one-third of all households with children under the age of 18 contain a gun, and 40 percent of those households leave those guns unlocked.

Children’s Defense also noted that child access prevention laws significantly increase children’s safety around guns. The laws, which require gun owners to store their guns so that children and teens cannot access them unsupervised, reduce accidental shootings of children by as much as 23 percent and suicides of adolescents by eight percent.

Greta Schulz, a 22-year-old from Brookfield, WI, is currently student teaching sixth graders in Chippewa Falls, WI. She said the school briefly went over gun safety with the students at the beginning of the school year – specifically what to do in the case of an intruder in the school.

“A lot of my students hunt, and a lot of them have access to guns,” Schulz said.

Recently, Schulz’s class read a story about deer hunting and Schulz used the opportunity to educate her students on gun safety.

“The reading did mention a couple of times how important it was to be safe and know how to use your gun properly,” Schulz said.

Proper gun education and access is key, according to 22-year-old Liz Korenak of Blair, NE, who works as a youth pastor and teaches middle school and high school kids.

“I know one (family) with two middle school-aged kids who keeps the guns and the ammo locked on different floors of the house with different keys,” Korenak said. “Another family that I know taught their kids gun safety and have a range in their backyard that they can use under supervision.”

This growing statistic of gun-related deaths should not become the trend in America; therefore, Congress needs to address gun violence in the U.S. via legislation that will decrease this statistic over the next decade.

Taylor Kuether is currently a gun violence reporter with Generation Progress. Follow her on Twitter @taylorkuether.

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