Background: Children in the United States are at far greater risk of unintentional gun death than children in other developed countries. The relative figures may even be worse since the estimates for US child unintentional gun deaths are derived from the Vital Statistics which have been shown to be underestimates. No study has used a national data system to investigate the circumstances of fatal child gun accidents.
Methods: We use data from the National Violent Death Reporting System for 16 states from 2005 to 2012. We examine the cases of unintentional gun death involving children in five age groups, 0-1, 2-4, 5-10, 11-12, and 13-14, where the child was either the victim or shooter.
Results: We estimate that there were 110 unintentional firearm deaths to children 0-14 annually in the U.S. during this 8 year time period, 80 % higher than reported by the Vital Statistics. The victims were predominantly male (81 %). Approximately two thirds of the shootings were other-inflicted, and in 97 % of those cases the shooter was a male. The typical shooter in other-inflicted shootings is a brother or friend. Indeed, children aged 11-14 are often shot in the home of friends. The large majority of children are shot by other children or by themselves. It is rare for a child accidentally to be shot by or accidentally to shoot an adult who is not a family member.
Conclusions: Our study highlights the fact that unintentional firearm death to children is a problem of children shooting children and thus the importance of keeping guns away from children, their siblings, and their friends.
Keywords: Children; Firearms; Gun accidents; Unintentional gun deaths.