Shootings are the leading cause of death among U.S. children, surpassing even car crashes. But a new study suggests there may be a sensible way to reduce those firearm tragedies.
Researchers found that kids who had watched a one-minute gun safety video were more likely to make a safe choice when they came upon an unlocked gun than children who had not been taught about gun safety.
“We found that this video works, so we know that one recommendation would be for parents and guardians to teach children about gun safety. Using a simple video might be an effective way to do that,” said study co-author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus.
The study included 226 children, aged 8 to 12, who knew each other and were tested in pairs.
The kids were randomly assigned to watch either a car safety video or a firearm safety video, each one-minute long and both featuring Ohio State’s police chief in full uniform.
Finding the handguns
The following week, the children were invited to a school laboratory disguised as a playroom. They were told they could play with any toy in the room for 20 minutes.
Parents and researchers watched from another room using a hidden camera.
Nearly all of the children (96%) opened the drawer to an unlocked file cabinet where two disabled 9-mm handguns were located.
More than half (53%) of the kids touched the gun. Only about 23% told an adult the guns were there.
Yet, notably, children were three times more likely to tell an adult about finding the guns if they had watched the gun safety video. About 34% of those kids reported finding the guns compared to 11% of those who didn’t watch the gun safety video.
“They touched a gun. A real gun. And the parents in our study said for sure they’ll tell an adult. Their parent was just in the next room and fewer than one in four told an adult,” Bushman said. “Those numbers differed dramatically for kids who saw the gun safety video.”
The kids who watched the gun safety video were less likely to touch a gun, 39% compared to 67%. The researchers observed that the kids who saw the video were also a little less reckless with the gun, holding it for fewer seconds and being less likely to pull the trigger.
“That’s a pretty serious thing if you find a gun and pull a trigger,” Bushman said. “So this video had a huge effect, but still it’s troubling that even in the gun safety video (group), that over 39% of the kids are touching the gun.”
Comparing gun deaths to motor vehicle deaths, Bushman noted vehicular deaths have been decreasing, possibly because of steps the United States has taken to make riding in a vehicle safer. These include mandatory seat belts, infant car seats and air bags.
“It’s time the U.S. takes steps to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths in children,” Bushman said.
The researchers noted that the safety video wasn’t the only factor influencing risk. Being a boy was a risk factor, and so was watching violent, age-inappropriate movies and having an interest in guns.
Having a gun in the home was not a risk factor, possibly because gun owners talk to their kids more about gun safety, the authors noted. Kids who had received firearms training were also less at risk.
Dr. Lois Lee, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, called the study consistent with some other research on gun safety.
“We know that children are naturally curious, so it’s not surprising that about 50% of them at least touch the gun. However, there was a statistically significant higher number of children who had seen the car safety video [who touched the gun] compared to those seeing the gun safety video,” said Lee, who was not involved in the study.
“That was true for the other metrics as well. How long they touched the gun. Whether or not they pulled the trigger. It does seem like the specific safety messages about not touching the gun did seem to be effective with the video used among this group of children,” added Lee, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Kids know what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing, typically, in this age group, but if their curiosity gets the better of them and they don’t want to get in trouble, they won’t tell their parents, she said.
“That’s not just for guns. That’s for eating a cookie before dinner, et cetera. So it’s not surprising then when you translate it to something potentially even more serious like firearms,” Lee said.
Because of this, it’s critical that parents understand the importance of securing firearms if they do have them in a home, Lee said.
That means keeping guns unloaded and kept in a locked box with ammunition stored separately, the study authors said. About one-third of U.S. children live in homes with firearms, and of these homes, 43% contain at least one unsecured gun, they said in background notes.
Children “often know where the firearms are, even when the parents don’t think they do. And they’re not necessarily going to follow all the safety rules, even if they have been told by a parent or watched a gun safety video,” Lee said. “The safest thing really is to secure the firearm so that children cannot have unauthorized access to them.”
The study results were published online July 17 in JAMA Pediatrics.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has more on children and firearms.
SOURCES: Brad Bushman, PhD, professor, school of communication, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Lois Lee, MD, chair, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention and senior associate in pediatrics, division of emergency medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston; JAMA Pediatrics, July 17, 2023, online
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