BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - This year, 2021 will likely go down as a record-setting year for the highest number of pediatric firearm injuries in various cities across Alabama, and possibly even the state as a whole. The latest data indicates Alabama continues to outpace national trends for children who are injured by gunfire.
In May we first reported that Children’s of Alabama treated more than forty children who’d been shot in only six months. Fast-forward to December, that caseload is now up to seventy-five children, marking a sixty percent increase compared to this time last year.
“We’ve been seeing an increase in firearm injuries both unintentional and intentional,” explained Dr. Eric Jorge, a pediatrician in Children’s emergency department. “We’re still seeing a lot of accidental or unintentional shootings, then a lot more violent crime as well.”
Jorge believes the concern over personal safety is one of several factors fueling this lethal trend.
“Typically if you’re buying a firearm for safety purposes, many people will leave those firearms loaded and unlocked, which is the absolute worst thing if you have kids,” he explained.
And that’s what he’s seeing in the ER right now.
“We’re seeing a lot of increased unintentional firearm injuries just because people aren’t storing their guns safely.”
After seeing child after child stream through the emergency room who’d been shot, Jorge took on research to learn more about local pediatric firearm injuries and how to stop it. Data he examined from the last 20 years shows gun injuries and deaths in children have nearly tripled. In Jefferson County, one in three children who’re shot don’t survive, one in four don’t make it to the hospital.
So far this year fourteen juveniles in Jefferson County, ranging in age from one to seventeen, have been killed by gunfire. That’s up from nine in 2020.
“No one expects this,” Jorge admitted. “People say it’s a freak accident but when you’re on the ER side and you see this happening multiple times a week and you’re having the same discussion over and over again you realize it’s a pattern and that it’s something that can be prevented.”
Intentional shootings where someone purposefully pulled the trigger account for half of the firearm cases that come through Children’s. Thirty-five percent of injuries and deaths stem from children mishandling guns.
“We looked back in those circumstances at who owned the gun. In that particular circumstance, the large majority were mothers and fathers who were the gun owners”, he remarked. “These guns are at home. It speaks to us that these are preventable injuries.”
Jorge says it’s a common misconception that talking with your children about guns will keep them safe; but it isn’t enough.
“A study showed that three out of four parents said that their child would not touch a gun based on prior discussions with their child,” he explained. “Then when the child was put in a research room, the large majority found the gun, looked at the gun, handled the gun and then over fifty percent pulled the trigger - and that was immediately after discussing safe firearm tactics.”
He also wants parents and caretakers to know the risk of having a gun in the home.
“Research shows that even if you own a gun for protection, someone in your family, particularly children are more likely to get injured from that gun than you are to use it for actual protection,” Jorge acknowledged.
Jorge stresses, gun locks are the best way to store a firearm. Biometric locks open in seconds with a fingerprint match should someone need quick access to their gun.
“I’m tired of treating firearm injuries, I want to do everything I can to prevent them,”, Jorge said. “Now the whole point is to stop seeing these kids die from something that doesn’t have to happen.”
The Surgeon General recently issued a rare advisory acknowledging a growing mental health crisis among children. Jorge says this is also fueling local pediatric gun injuries. Four of the fourteen juveniles who died from gun injuries this year in Jefferson County died by suicide.
Mental health experts say it’s key for parents to talk to their children about their mental health, even if they aren’t experiencing difficulty. They also indicate it’s also imperative for parents to recognize the signs their child may be suffering from anxiety and depression.
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