Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

State laws that mandate universal background checks for buying guns and ammunition may save young lives, suggests new research presented this week at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. The study found that states with stricter gun laws had lower rates of gun-related deaths among children compared to states without such laws.

Researchers, primarily at the Children’s National Health System in Washington DC, first examined gun injury data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They specifically looked at reported firearm deaths of people under the age of 21 that took place in 2015. Then they matched each state’s child mortality rate to a rating of their gun control laws and policies, based on a scorecard established by the Brady Campaign, a non-profit organization that advocates for gun violence prevention.

There were a total of 4,528 reported child deaths from guns in 2015. The state-by-state firearm mortality rate ranged from 0 deaths per 100,000 children to 18 deaths per 100,000 children.

The researchers found that the median mortality rate for the 12 states with universal background laws for all gun sales—including Washington, Colorado, and Connecticut—was 3.8 deaths per 100,000 children. But for states that didn’t require background checks, the median mortality rate was 5.7 per 100,000 children. The same relationship was true when looking at background checks for ammo: The median mortality of the five states with these laws was 2.3 deaths per 100,000 children, while it was 5.6 deaths per 100,000 children in states with no background checks.

The study’s findings are preliminary, since they’ve yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and they don’t directly show that gun laws prevent children’s deaths. But the authors says their study is one of the first to look at how gun laws can specifically influence child deaths. Other research has similarly shown that stricter state gun laws can reduce the rate of gun-related suicides and homicides.

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“Injuries due to firearms are the nation’s third-leading cause of pediatric death,” said lead author Monika Goyal, director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine and Trauma Services at Children’s National Health System, in a statement. “Firearm legislation at the state level varies significantly. Our findings underscore the need for further investigation of which types of state-level firearm legislation most strongly correlates with reduction in pediatric injuries and deaths.”

Accidental shootings, suicides, and homicides committed by people the victims know account for the majority of gun-related deaths among children. Goyal added that mass shootings are only a small reason of why these deaths happen.

“While these tragedies often are covered heavily by the news media, they represent a subset of overall pediatric injuries and deaths due to firearms,” Goyal said. “Pediatric firearm-related injuries are a critical public health issue across the US.”

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[PAS 2018]