BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – This year 2021 will likely go down in history as a record year for the highest number of pediatric firearm injuries in several Alabama cities, and possibly even the state as a whole. The latest data indicates that Alabama continues to exceed national trends for children injured by gunfire.
In May, we first reported that Children’s of Alabama treated more than 40 children who had been shot in just six months. Fast-forward to December, that caseload is now up to seventy-five children, a sixty percent increase from this time last year.
“We are seeing an increase in firearms injuries, both accidental and intentional,” explains Dr. Eric Jorge, a pediatrician in the pediatric emergency department. “We still see a lot of accidental or unintentional shootings, as well as a lot more violent crime.”
Jorge believes personal safety concerns are one of the factors fueling this deadly trend.
“If you buy a firearm for security purposes, a lot of people leave those firearms loaded and unlocked, which is definitely the worst thing when you have kids,” he explained.
And that’s what he’s seeing in the ER right now.
“We’re seeing a lot of increased accidental firearm injuries just because people don’t store their guns safely.”
After watching child after child flow through the emergency room that had been shot, Jorge set out to learn more about localized gunfire injuries in children and how to stop them. Data he has examined from the past 20 years shows that gun injuries and child deaths have nearly tripled. In Jefferson County, one in three children who are shot do not survive, and one in four do not make it to the hospital.
So far this year, 14 youths in Jefferson County, ranging in age from one to 17, have been killed by gunfire. That’s more than nine in 2020.
“Nobody expects this,” admitted Jorge. “People say it’s a freak accident, but when you’re on the ER side and you see this happening multiple times a week and you have the same discussion over and over, you realize it’s a pattern and it’s something that can be prevented .”
Intentional shootings where someone deliberately pulled the trigger for half of the firearms cases that come in through Children’s. Thirty-five percent of injuries and deaths result from children mishandling weapons.
“We looked back at the owner of the weapon in those circumstances. In that particular circumstance, the vast majority were mothers and fathers who were the gun owners,” he noted. “These guns are at home. It appeals to us that these are preventable injuries.”
Jorge says it’s a common misconception that talking to your kids about guns keeps them safe; but it’s not enough.
“One study found that three out of four parents said their child would not touch a weapon based on previous conversations with their child,” he explained. “When the child was then placed in an examination room, the vast majority found the gun, looked at the gun, picked up the gun, then pulled the trigger — and that was immediately after discussing safe firearms tactics.”
He also wants parents and carers to know the risk of having a gun in the house.
“Research shows that even if you own a weapon for protection, someone in your family, especially children, are more likely to be injured by that weapon than you are using it for actual protection,” Jorge acknowledged.
Jorge stresses that gun locks are the best way to store a firearm. Biometric locks open in seconds with a fingerprint that matches when someone needs quick access to their gun.
“I’m tired of treating gun injuries, I want to do everything I can to prevent them,” Jorge said. “The whole point now is to prevent these kids from dying from something that doesn’t have to happen.”
The Surgeon General recently issued a rare advisory recognizing the growing mental health crisis in children. Jorge says this is also fueling local pediatric gun injuries. Four of the 14 youth who died from gun injuries in Jefferson County this year died by suicide.
Mental health experts say it’s critical for parents to talk to their kids about their mental health, even if they don’t have problems. They also indicate that it is also necessary for parents to recognize the signs that their child may be suffering from anxiety and depression.
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