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July 9, 2001

Study examines what boys do when they find guns

By Tia Webster


Many preteen boys age 8 to 12 will handle a gun and even pull the trigger if they find one, according to a study published in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“Many parents may have unrealistic expectations of their child’s behavior around guns,” said study co-investigator Harold Simon, pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston and the School of Medicine.

“Despite widespread appreciation of the importance of gun safety, there is limited research on what children will do when they actually encounter a real gun,” he said. “This study highlights the high-risk behavior of boys who find a gun in a presumably safe environment.”

The physicians studied 29 groups of boys ages 8 to 12 with a mean age of 9.8 years. The boys came from families who had completed a survey on firearm ownership, storage practices and parental perceptions. Parents who agreed to allow their child to participate were asked to bring one of their son’s siblings or a playmate in the same age range to the exercise.

Following informed parental consent, each pair or trio of boys was placed in a room with a one-way mirror and observed for up to 15 minutes. An actual .380 caliber handgun (altered so it could not be fired) was concealed in a drawer. Instead of a magazine of bullets, the gun contained a hidden radio transmitter that activated a light whenever the trigger was depressed hard enough to discharge a firearm.

Twenty-one of the groups discovered the handgun within 15 minutes of being in the room. Sixteen groups (76 percent) handled the gun, and one or more members in 10 of those groups (48 percent) pulled the trigger. During subsequent questioning, nearly half of the 48 boys who found the gun said they thought it was a toy or were unsure if it was real. In addition, more than 90 percent of the boys who handled the gun or pulled the trigger reported they had previously received some sort of gun safety instruction.

“Even if you do not have a gun in your own home, your child may run the risk of injury if a gun is found in a friend’s home or in another common setting,” said principle investigator Geoffrey Jackman, emergency medicine physician at the University of Utah.

“Our findings reinforce the common-sense notion that adults who keep guns in their home have a responsibility to keep them locked and inaccessible to children,” said co-investigator Arthur Kellermann, director of the Emory Center for Injury Control. “While it is fine to teach your child safe behavior around guns, don’t count on it.”


Back to Emory Report July 9, 2001