Children living in states with more restrictions on firearms are less likely to die from them, a new study says.
States with the strictest gun laws had about 40% fewer firearm-related deaths among children compared with states with the most lax laws, according to the study, published Monday in journal Pediatrics.
"This means, that we may be able to reduce the pediatric death toll in our country by nearly half with strengthened gun safety laws," lead author Monika Goyal told USA TODAY.
Her team also found that states mandating universal background checks prior to gun purchases had 35% lower gun-related mortality rates in children.
Goyal, an epidemiologist and research director of the emergency division of Children's National pediatric hospital in Washington, D.C., said she feels compelled to find ways to prevent gun violence – which many say has become a public health crisis.
"As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, I personally have cared for too many children who have been unfortunate victims of gun violence," she said.
'Epidemic' of gun deaths: Firearm deaths of US school-age children at 'epidemic' levels, study says
Increasing gun-related deaths among children have become a key issue in the USA. A study released last fall found that firearm-related injuries were the second leading cause of deaths among children in the U.S. in 2016.
Rebecca Cunningham, lead author of the 2018 study and emergency medicine professor at the University of Michigan, said guns are especially dangerous around children because of a lack of maturity.
"Children and adolescents do not have the brain maturity to resist impulsive behavior successfully," Cunningham said. "In other settings, this lack of mature impulse control is not fatal. When reaching for a gun as a toddler or as a depressed or angry teen, that impulsivity is often fatal due to the lethality of the firearms."
The Pediatrics study found that 21,241 people under 21 died of firearm-related injuries from 2011 to 2015. This means more than 10 children die from gun violence every day, Goyal said.
Lars Dalseide, National Rifle Association spokesperson, said the NRA has made strong efforts to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms. One example is the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, a gun accident prevention program that teaches kids about gun safety.
Dalseide said he was skeptical of the study's methods. "Any social scientist worth their salt has to question a study that cherry-picks a microscopic 5-year time window of data when there is more than 50 years of data available," he said.
There's still more work to be done in order to understand how legislation may effectively reduce gun-related deaths among children, Goyal said, but it's a similar process to researching the relationship between car safety and laws.
"Just as we have invested in rigorous scientific research to inform policies related to motor vehicle passenger safety – which have in turn dramatically reduced the number of pediatric deaths from motor vehicle collisions – we must embrace the same evidence-based strategies if we wish to curtail the firearm epidemic in our country," Goyal said.
Cunningham co-leads the Firearm-Safety Among Children & Teens Consortium (FACTS), a group of researchers across the country working to prevent gun violence against children. She said it's critical to pursue research into gun violence to gain a full understanding of the issue.
"We don’t have to accept the continued rise of deaths among our children and teens by firearm injury," Cunningham said. "This is an addressable public health issue, that can be accomplished by injury prevention science while respecting the rights of our citizens."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gun violence: Fewer kids die from guns in states with stricter laws