Survey suggests parents' perceptions about children's access to household guns are often inaccurate

May 01, 2006

A survey of parents and children in rural Alabama suggests that some parents may not realize that their children know the location of and have handled household firearms, according to a study in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Firearms account for approximately 10 percent of deaths among U.S. children aged 5 to 14 years, according to background information in the article. For every firearm-related death among children, three children are injured by guns but do not die. Many of these injuries occur when children gain access to household firearms. Guns are just as prevalent in homes with children as in homes without, the authors write.

Frances Baxley, M.D., San Francisco General Hospital, and Matthew Miller, M.D., Sc.D., Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, surveyed 314 pairs of parents and children aged 5 to 14 years in a family practice clinic in Alabama. Parents in the waiting room completed a 20-question survey about firearms, while children went to a separate room and answered questions read aloud by researchers, so that parents and children were not aware of each others' answers.

Of the 314 parents, 201 (64 percent) reported keeping at least one firearm in the home, and 91 percent of those had discussed gun safety with their children. A total of 141 of the parents with guns in the home reported that their children knew where the guns were stored, and 61 said that they thought their children had handled a firearm in the home. Overall, 39 percent of parents who reported that their children did not know the location of the gun and 22 percent of those who said their children had never handled the a weapon in the home were contradicted by their children's responses to the same questions. "Parents who locked their guns away and discussed gun safety with their children were as likely to be contradicted as parents who did not take such safety measures," the authors write.

The results, they conclude, "suggest that in a region where gun ownership is prevalent and where children are frequently included in gun-related activities, many mothers appear to be misinformed about the extent of their children's potential access and exposure to household guns."
-end-
(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:542-547. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

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