Number of pediatric firearm injuries went up during pandemic including here in the Ozarks

Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 6:45 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2023 at 8:35 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Research released by the University of Missouri School of Medicine shows firearm injuries among children jumped during the pandemic and local officials who deal with pediatric health say the causes of the problem haven’t gone away.

The research shows that during the pandemic, the monthly rate of firearm-related injuries to children increased by 52 percent, with reasons ranging from youngsters having more access to guns because they were stuck at home to the stress of COVID and being isolated from their friends, contributing to more suicides.

“The pandemic increased everyone’s anxiety,” said Chris Davis, the Vice-President of Prevention and Youth Support for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. “And some of those feelings of isolation, depression, and other traumas still continue to linger.”

Davis also pointed out that gun-related injuries vary statewide from the cities to the more rural areas.

“In the urban areas, more of the firearm injuries and deaths are related to homicides and accidental shootings,” Davis said. “In more suburban and rural communities, it’s accidental shootings and suicide rather than homicide.”

“For years, I remember when car accidents and child poisonings were the main cause of pediatric injuries,” added Becky Spain, Mercy’s Injury Prevention Specialist, and Safe Kids Coordinator. “So to see handgun injuries take the lead as the number one way that our children are dying is just horrifying.”

Mercy Springfield’s emergency room child gunshot wounds patients totaled just three in 2019. But over the next three years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers rose to nine in 2020, six in 2021, and eight in 2022. CoxHealth said it was unable to share its numbers externally.

Spain said parents play a crucial role in keeping those numbers down.

“When we get home, we have a tendency to get a little bit lax,” Spain explained. “If you do carry a handgun, you are in control of it, but as soon as you take that off, you are no longer in control. So as responsible gun owners, we need to make sure we have practices in place to keep family members from getting to them. When we take our gun off, we need to separate the ammunition from the gun and then lock both those up under-key separately and out of the reach of our children.”

That’s why Mercy and Community Partnership of the Ozarks offer free firearm cable locks and lockboxes that can stow away guns or medications.

“And make sure you tell your children that you have chosen to own guns but that they are not a toy and not like the games that you play on TV,” Spain added.

Dr. Mary Benardin, who did the research for the University of Missouri School of Medicine, expressed her concern that future COVID surges could also lead to children firearm injury surges.

“While there might not be anything we can do about preventing COVID variants from emerging,” she said. “Gun violence is completely preventable.”

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