Characteristics of pediatric firearm fatalities

J Pediatr Surg. 1990 Jan;25(1):97-9; discussion 99-100. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3468(05)80171-x.


An increase in the awareness of the problem of gunshot fatalities in children has occurred nationwide over the last year. Unintentional firearm deaths are more common among children and young adults. These deaths may be addressed by preventive measures beyond those available for pediatric firearm suicide and homicide. This study focuses on the incidence of fatal gunshot injuries in children under 16 years of age during the years 1979 through 1987 in our state. Over the past 9 years 132 children (0 to 16 years) were shot and killed as a result of firearm injuries (M:F ratio, 3:1). No difference in absolute number in racial distribution existed. Deaths were classified as homicide, 61 (46%); accidental, 33 (25%); suicide, 29 (22%); undetermined, 7 (5%); and other, 2 (1.5%). Over 70% of these fatal injuries occurred in the home environment. Types of weapons involved included handguns (48%), shotguns (22%), rifles (17%), unspecified weapon (12%), and air rifle (1%). In a large number of cases, guns were found in the home unsecured. The perpetrator was known by the victim in 64 instances, while unknown in 27. Thirty-nine self-inflicted wounds and two shotgun blasts in the line of fire accounted for the remaining deaths. The most common anatomical injury and ultimate cause of death was cranial central nervous system (CNS) (62%), followed by chest/mediastinum (20%), abdomen (10%), and other (8%). A child who has sustained a firearm injury is more likely to know the perpetrator, be killed in the home by a readily available unsecured firearm, and die from severe head injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / mortality
  • Adolescent
  • Brain Injuries / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries / mortality
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds, Gunshot / classification
  • Wounds, Gunshot / epidemiology
  • Wounds, Gunshot / mortality*