Cincinnati Children's Blog

Children’s Gun-Related Injuries Linked to Poverty

About 42 percent of U.S. homes have a firearm, reported a recent article.

Some may be surprised the number is so high, but I think it’s a rather conservative estimate. And I think the number is increasing in light of recent court rulings such as June’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Chicago’s handgun ban. Also, estimates don’t reflect the unauthorized purchase and ownership of guns. There’s a tremendous market on the street for guns acquired illegally.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing greater evidence of this at Cincinnati Children’s. From 1991 to 2006, we saw a more than 200 percent increase in children with firearm-related injuries. In 2006, we admitted 57 children with gunshot wounds.

As a surgeon looking at it from a public health perspective, I see that inner-city gun violence has become a major cause of morbidity and mortality in children. It’s not just happening to drug dealers that some say “deserve” it. It’s affecting entire communities, including infants.

Telling children to “Stop! Don’t touch. Tell an adult. Leave the area.” when they see a gun, as the NRA teaches, is a start, but it isn’t enough. Children have an innate curiosity. You can’t tell them not to touch something they see all the time, even if just on TV or in video games, and expect them not to touch it. Developmentally, a child won’t abide by a no-touch rule.

One way to protect children is to keep firearms locked up, separate from ammunition. When children are invited to play at another’s house, it’s wise to ask an adult if there’s a gun there and if it’s properly secured. Chances are if there is a gun in the house for security reasons, it won’t be locked up apart from ammunition. It’ll be readily available.

But protecting children from firearms isn’t the core issue. Firearm violence is only one symptom of a greater issue affecting many inner cities:  concentrated poverty and joblessness.

That same issue has contributed to Cincinnati having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the state. (Even Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower.) We have one of the highest homicide rates in the state, too. And then there’s the higher rate of asthma, obesity, diabetes and other health disparities found among disadvantaged communities.

For centuries, sociologists have shown the connection between and spatial clustering of concentrated poverty, joblessness and a host of health disparities including violence, premature births, infant mortality, obesity, premature death from cardiovascular disease and asthma, just to mention a few. But we don’t discuss this enough. That’s why we held a workshop at Xavier University on Sept. 11 to consider the root causes and fundamental enduring solutions instead of continuing with symptomatic quick fixes, some of which result in worse outcomes. The workshop was a first step in mobilizing our community to attack poverty head-on and provide a safer place for inner-city families.

By addressing poverty, we indirectly address firearm violence. Ultimately, that’s the most effective way to protect children from guns — better than a police force patrolling the streets or any safety education program.

Victor F. Garcia, MD, developed Cincinnati Children’s first regional Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center and served as the director from 1991 to 2009. After seeing an increase in children admitted to Cincinnati Children’s with gunshot wounds, Dr. Garcia led the development of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence and served as the Co-Chair until 2008. He is an integral part of ongoing efforts to reduce violence in Cincinnati’s inner-city core.


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