Did firearm injuries in kids increase during the pandemic?

Increased time in the home during the pandemic along with increases in gun ownership may have put children at an elevated risk of a firearm injury. A research brief examines whether this was accurate.

Roughly one-third of children in the United States live in a home with a firearm and far too often those firearms aren’t properly secured, which can greatly increase the risk of an injury caused by the firearm. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in firearm sales across the countries and it also led to children spending far more time in the home with those firearms. A research brief in Pediatrics looked at the rate of hospital encounters due to firearms in the pandemic.1

The investigators used the discharge diagnosis codes from the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision to perform a cross-sectional comparison of firearm-related and total emergency department and hospital encounters between March and August 2020 with March to August 2017-2019 in 44 US children’s hospitals that participated with the Pediatric Health Information System database. Primary outcome was a firearm-related encounter, which was defined as a first encounter for a penetrating injury caused by a powder-charged weapon.

During the study period, there were 2510 firearm encounters with 798 occurring in 2020. Adolescents aged 15 to 18 years accounted for 45.6% of them and 78.8% of them were in boys. Additionally, 61.7% of the effected teenagers were non-Hispanic Black; 62.7% live in the South census region; and 48.9% were living in a very low Child Opportunity Index neighborhood. No differences in cohort characteristics were noted in 2017-2019 versus 2020. When compared to the 2017-2019 period, total encounters decreased in 2020 by 42.3%. However, encounters related to firearms increased by 38.8% from a median of 575 encounters in 2017-2019 to 798 encounters in 2020.

The investigators concluded that although total hospital encounters had a substantial decrease during the first part of the pandemic, the encounters because of firearms had a significant increase during the same period of time, from March 2020 to August 2020. This finding underscores the need to provide information on crisis support and violence intervention during resources when meeting with families. Additionally, clinicians should continue in their advocacy of research into firearm safety as well as maintain their support of responsible firearm legislation.

Reference

1. Gastineau K, Williams D, Hall M, et al. Pediatric firearm-related hospital encounters during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Pediatrics. July 8, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1542/peds.2021-050223