Stronger gun laws could save children's lives, study finds
By Keya Vakil
July 19, 2019

Stronger gun laws could help tackle the epidemic of gun deaths among young people, according to a paper published in Pediatrics, a journal that publishes original research. 

Firearms are the second leading cause of pediatric death in the United States, with 21,241 people aged 21 or younger dying of firearm-related injuries between 2011 and 2015.

Researchers studied this five year period and wanted to determine if stricter gun laws at the state level were associated with lower rates of pediatric gun-related mortality.

The study, entitled “State Gun Laws and Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality,” found that gun-related deaths among people 21 years old or younger are 35% lower in states that have required mandatory background checks for at least five years.

Virginia is among the majority of states that has no such law, despite the efforts of Democrats in the General Assembly. Just this month, Virginia Republicans ended a special session after just 90 minutes, refusing to even consider reforming the state’s gun laws in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

The study also found that even in states with high rates of gun ownership, stronger gun laws protect children and lower mortality rates.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Monika Goyal of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told CNN that those findings are likely due to states that have child access prevention laws or extreme risk protection laws on the books. 

Child access prevention laws require gun owners to keep guns locked away and unloaded at all times, which can prevent children from accessing the guns and accidentally injuring themselves. Extreme risk protection laws allow law enforcement officials to limit a person’s access to firearms if they’ve exhibited dangerous behavior.

Goyal told CNN that those types of laws can reduce the risk of gun-related injuries and as a result, likely lowered the number of gun-related deaths.

Virginia Democrats wanted to pass both an extreme risk protection bill and child access prevention measures during the special session, but were prevented from doing so by Republicans.

The study is just the latest piece of evidence to support the idea that stronger gun laws reduce gun violence and save lives, but so far, those studies have yet to make a difference in Virginia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER Online Database, during the five-year span researchers studied, 506 Virginians ages 21 and under lost their lives to gun violence.

The researchers behind “State Gun Laws and Pediatric Firearm-Related Mortality” based the strength of a state’s gun laws on scorecards from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit that ranked the strictness of laws on a 100-point scale. 

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has since taken over scorecards from Brady.

Virginia earned a “D” rating from Giffords in 2018.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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