Study: Boys who find guns will likely handle them
By Rhonda Rowland
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Most young boys who discover a concealed firearm are likely to handle it and even pull the trigger, new research suggested Monday. The conclusion was immediately challenged by the gun lobby.
About half the boys said they did not know the gun was real, or were unsure it was, the study found.
"About 90 percent of the kids in the study said they had been taught issues of gun safety," said Dr. Arthur Kellermann, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Center for Injury Control at Emory University, who co-authored the study published in the journal Pediatrics.
"We also found that the child's interest in handling this handgun did not match in any way with the parent's own perception of their child's interest in guns. So a parent might say, 'Oh my child would never do that,'" he said.
Researchers recruited 64 8- to 12-year-old boys from families who had previously filled out surveys on firearm ownership and storage practices. The boys were separated into 29 groups of two or three and spent 15 minutes in a room where they could be observed through a one-way mirror.
A real gun and two water pistols were hidden in two separate drawers of a cabinet in the room. The real handgun was rigged with a radio transmitter that could monitor if the trigger was pulled with enough force to have fired a real weapon.
"Almost three-fourths of the children found the gun. Of those children that found the gun, over three-fourths of those handled it, and that is high risk behavior," said Dr. Howard Simon, pediatric emergency physician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, who also co-authored the study.
"Only one of the groups actually left the room without handling the gun to tell an adult what they had found. Almost half the children that found the gun, at least one of the children from each group pulled the trigger."
Simon said the families surveyed thought most children in this age group would be able to recognize the difference between a toy gun and a real gun and would avoid touching or playing with a real gun.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) found fault with the study.
"Upon analysis of this study, some glaring limitations came to light," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. "One major limitation is the choice of location for the study. The researchers chose a hospital -- a 'safe' environment where research subjects would assume that if a firearm was stored, it must be safe."
The researchers acknowledged this limitation in their report, but added that a child might also assume a gun at home or at a friend's house is safe to handle.
The researchers say their findings support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that the best way to prevent gun-related deaths and injuries in children is the absence of firearms in homes and communities.
"Every parent who chooses to keep guns in their home has, I think, a moral obligation to store that weapon so that it can't be reached by their children or anybody else's children," said Kellermann.
"There are many ways to do that. Personally, I would favor lockboxes as opposed to trigger locks, but I feel that's a parental responsibility if children are ever going to come into your house."
Studies show unintentional gunshots kill about 400 children in the United States each year and injure another 3,000. Eighty-percent of the shootings involve boys, and many of the accidents occur when a child discovers a gun in the home while playing with a sibling or friend, the study said.
Kellermann said adults have a responsibility to store guns securely out of reach of children He said it's not enough to simply teach children about guns.
"The best known program in the country is Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program that is sponsored and promoted by the National Rifle Association. And Eddie's message is a good message: Don't touch, leave the area, and tell and adult," said Kellermann. "The problem is, we don't have a clue whether Eddie works or not."
In the study, just one of the 29 groups left the room without handling the gun to tell an adult about finding it.
Kellermann said his team has approached the NRA to propose a scientific study of its program.
"Firearm safety programs like Eddie Eagle play a significant part. But, in dealing with children in this age group, parental involvement in paramount," said Arulanandam. "While I agree that every parent should talk to their children about guns and about the need to not touch them, leave the room, and tell a grown up, they shouldn't assume that their child will do the right thing for a moment," said Kellermann. "Boys are boys and children are children and we should expect that they're going to be naturally curious."
Surveys show about one-third of households in America have guns in them.
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