Every day, someone under 25 years old is shot in Ontario — and 75 per cent of these gun violence incidents are accidental, Canadian doctors warn in a new study.
After studying all gun violence injuries involving youth under 25 between 2008 and 2012, doctors from the Hospital for Sick Children and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences say that there are 355 firearm injuries a year.
“When we looked at the total number of firearm injuries, we were astounded that one child or youth a day in Ontario is injured by a firearm…this is the first study to show the magnitude of the problem,” Dr. Natasha Saunders, the study’s lead author, told Global News.
Saunders is a staff pediatrician at SickKids, a University of Toronto professor and an ICES scientist.
“This will be a surprise to many people. Anybody I’ve told this statistic to, their jaw hits the floor — certainly, one child or youth in Ontario is an alarming statistic and I think we’re often overshadowed by what goes on in the U.S, because rates of firearm injury are very high there, but it doesn’t mean that it is any less of a problem in Canada,” Saunders told Global News.
WATCH: Canadian study finds a young person is shot nearly every day in Ontario. Catherine McDonald reports.
The study looked at more than four million children and youth over the course of five years. Every hospital and emergency department, along with every gun-related injury and death to those under 25 years old, was accounted for.
(To be clear, the researchers considered anyone under 25 to be categorized as “youth.”)
Saunders and her team were hoping to understand if there was a disparity between immigrants and Canadian-born youth when it comes to exposure to gun violence.
It turns out that out of 355 firearm injuries that occur every year, about 23 to 25 youth die from those injuries.
Canadian-born youth, especially boys, have the highest rates of unintentional injury at the hands of guns, compared to their counterparts who immigrated to Canada.
There was a disparity in violence depending on the age group, too. There were about 297 Canadian-born kids under 15 who encountered unintentional injuries compared to a whopping 877 accidents for those between 15 and 24.
When it came to assault, about 21 Canadian-born kids under 15 fell into this category compared to 314 teens and young adults between 15 and 24.
Injuries from gun violence were assault-related only 25 per cent of the time. That means 75 per cent were accidental and shouldn’t have happened, Saunders said.
“Seventy-five per cent are totally preventable by simple safety measures,” Saunders said. The researchers say this is a key message from the study they’re hoping to relay to families, policy-makers and gun manufacturers.
Guns shouldn’t be in homes with children present, Saunders said, and if they are, they should be stored safely, locked away and separated from ammunition.
The study didn’t zero in on what kinds of firearms were used — they could be handguns, rifles, shotguns or “play guns” like BB guns, she said.
Context was also missing. Saunders said the next steps are to look at whether these incidents were occurring at home, on the streets, or in play spaces, for example.
There was a difference between urban and rural Canada, though: children and youth in rural areas were twice as likely to be accidentally injured by a gun, but kids in urban areas were twice as likely to be a victim of gun violence.
On the heels of the study, the Canadian Paediatric Society updated its position statement on firearm safety.
It’s calling on frontline health care workers, like family doctors, to ask families whether they have guns in the house. It’s also urging the federal government to enforce stricter controls on the acquisition, ownership and storage of guns.
“The availability of firearms to youth is an important factor in adolescent suicide, homicide, unintentional firearm deaths and school shootings,” Dr. Katherine Austin, author of the CPS statement, said.
“We need to ask about the presence of firearms in the home and when there is one, inform parents of the risks,” she said.
The SickKids/ICES study was published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
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