Firearm-related fatalities are a top 3 cause of death among children in the United States. Despite historical declines in firearm ownership, the firearm-related mortality rate among young children has risen over the past decade. In this study, we examined changes in firearm ownership among families with young children from 1976 to 2016, exploring how such changes relate to recent increases in firearm-related mortality among 1- to 5-year-olds.
Individual-level data from the National Vital Statistics System were merged with household-level data from the General Social Survey to create national-level estimates of firearm-related child mortality and family firearm ownership from 1976 to 2016 (n = 41 years). Vector autoregression models were used to examine the association between firearm ownership and child mortality.
The proportion of non-Hispanic white families with young children who owned firearms declined from 50% in 1976 to 45% in 2016 and from 38% to 6% among non-Hispanic African American families. The proportion of white families with young children who owned handguns, however, increased from 25% to 32%; 72% of firearm-owning families with young children now own a handgun. Increases in handgun ownership partially explained the recent rise in firearm-related white child mortality (B = 0.426), net of economic conditions, and sociodemographic characteristics of firearm-owning families.
Changes in the types of firearms in the homes of US families may partially explain recently rising firearm-related mortality among young white children. These findings hold relevance for pediatricians and policy makers aiming to reduce firearm-related mortality and promote firearm safety in children’s homes.