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Physician's Weekly: Teens Have Easy Access To Loaded Weapons, Even If Locked

By Michael Bassett

Many adolescents who live in households with firearms have ready access to those weapons. Moreover, according to a nationally representative survey study, more than one-third of adolescents report being able to access a loaded household firearm within five minutes.

The study, led by Carmel Salhi, ScD, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Department of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, was published in JAMA Network Open.

The risk of suicide and unintentional firearm injury is several times higher among adolescents who live in homes that contain those weapons compared with children who don’t, Salhi and colleagues explained — however, the risk of firearm injury is mitigated if these weapons are kept unloaded and under lock and key.

Salhi and colleagues found that one-third (33.9%) of adolescents reported they could access a loaded firearm within five minutes, while another 17.4% reported they could access a loaded firearm within an hour. Even in households where all firearms were locked, 23.7% of adolescents reported being able to access a loaded firearm within five minutes, with an additional 22.2% in one hour or less.

In a commentary accompanying the study, Shayla A. Sullivant, MD, and M. Denise Dowd, MD, MPH, both of Children’s Mercy Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, noted that easy access to firearms “is a well-recognized risk factor for homicide and suicide among youth in the United States.”

They further wrote: “The high proportion of adolescents with access to unsecured firearms is highly disconcerting when we consider the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among adolescents. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey tells us that more than 1 in 6 high school students seriously considered suicide in the past year. However, half of parents are unaware that their child has been suicidal. A recent study of index suicide attempts found that 71.4% of adolescents who died by suicide died on their first attempt, while a minority (41.2%) had a known psychiatric history. Most (85%) of those index attempts involved a firearm. We know that the practice of keeping a gun locked and unloaded and storing ammunition in a separate, locked location are protective against both unintentional injuries and suicide. Thus, finding effective ways to limit adolescent access to guns is a clear priority in youth suicide prevention.”

Moreover, having quick access to firearms is particularly dangerous in the case of adolescents because the “capacity to weigh long-term consequences and control impulses is not fully online in early adolescence.”


Read the full story via Physician's Weekly

Learn more from the Children's Mercy Center for Childhood Safety