In June, we reviewed a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics identifying gun violence as a public health crisis in the United States:

Injuries from guns are the third leading cause of death in children ages 1-17 in the United States. (Unintentional accidents such as motor vehicle accidents and drowning come in first; childhood cancers are second.) Using data from three national databases between 2002-2014, researchers analyzed emergency room records and death certificates and confirmed that gun violence is truly a public health crisis that leads substantially to premature death and disability in the pediatric age group…

Nearly 1,300 children die every year in this country from guns (or to be politically correct, from people with guns). That’s 19 American children every day, dead forever.

5,790 children are shot, treated, and survive their firearm-inflicted wounds annually.


We know that access to unsecured firearms in American homes increases the risk of harm to children. Researchers from The Ohio State University recently wondered whether media exposure to firearms increased the risk of a child picking one up and firing it:

Nearly 60% of US households with guns do not secure them. If children find these guns, the consequences can be deadly. Most unintentional gun shootings happen at home, typically as a result of children playing with a loaded, unlocked gun. Children in the United States are 10 times more likely to die by unintentional gun shootings than children from other developed countries.

Many factors can influence children’s interest in guns. Previous research has shown that children exposed to movie characters who smoke are more likely to smoke and that children exposed to movie characters who drink alcohol are more likely to drink alcohol. This experiment focuses on exposure to movie characters with guns. We hypothesized that children exposed to movie characters who use guns will be more likely to use guns.


Lisa Rapaport explains the researchers’ methods…:

For the experiment, researchers had children watch a 20-minute clip from the PG-rated films “The Rocketeer” or “National Treasure.” The kids were randomly assigned to watch either an unedited version of the clip, or a version in which scenes showing guns were edited out but the action and narrative of the film were not altered.

After watching the movie, the children were taken to a different room with a cabinet full of toys and were told they could play with any of the toys and games in the room. One drawer of the cabinet contained a real 0.38-caliber handgun that had been modified so it could not fire, although the gun’s hammer and trigger were still functional.


… and the study’s results:

During 20 minutes of playtime in the room, the movie scene kids saw didn’t appear to influence whether they found the gun or handled it, researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics.

It’s not clear why the movies didn’t appear to influence whether children picked up the guns to play, said study co-author Brad Bushman, a psychology researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus.

“But those who did handle the gun held it longer and pulled the trigger more times if they saw a movie with guns than if they saw a movie without guns,” Bushman said by email…

When kids did grab the gun, the ones who had seen movie characters with a gun pulled the trigger roughly three times on average, the study found. By contrast, the children who hadn’t see a gun in the movie rarely, if ever, pulled the trigger at all.

In addition, half of the kids who had observed movie characters using firearms held the gun for 53 seconds or more, the study found. When kids had not seen a gun in the movie scene, half of them held the gun for about 11 seconds or less.


Also concerning was the finding that only a third of the kids who found the gun sought to inform an adult about it, breaking Rule Number One of firearm safety rules for kids:

Don’t touch a gun. If you see one, run away and tell an adult.


Read The PediaBlog’s prior coverage of firearm safety issues here.


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