A review of U.S. hospital records finds that gun injuries send about 20 children and adolescents to the hospital every day, providing a more detailed picture of the second leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 20.

The study, which is published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that 7,391 young patients are hospitalized each year by firearm injuries, with more than five percent of cases involving children under 10. Although assault was the cause of injury in most cases, a significant amount of hospitalizations resulted from sheer accident, particularly among the youngest patients. Overall, about six percent of patients later died from their injuries.

Dr. John Leventhal, a professor at Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a press release that the most common injuries were open wounds, fractures, and internal injuries of the pelvis, abdomen, and thorax. In children under 5, the researchers also recorded a significant number of traumatic brain injuries. Patients who survived their hospitalization typically required extensive follow-up care such as rehabilitation, mental health counseling, and home health care. On closer examination, Leventhal and colleagues identified stark differences across demographics. For example, almost 90 percent of the hospitalization involved boys. In addition, black males were 10 times more likely to become hospitalized compared to white males.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that, although the safest home is a home without guns, American gun owners can help slash pediatric hospitalization rates by keeping firearms stored and unloaded. "These data highlight the toll of gun-related injuries that extends beyond high-profile cases, and those children and adolescents who die before being hospitalized,” Leventhal explained. “Pediatricians and other health care providers can play an important role in preventing these injuries through counseling about firearm safety, including safe storage."

Gun Ownership and Gun Injuries

The current study goes to the core of the polarizing debate over U.S. gun regulation. Since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., at least 24 other school shootings have occurred across the country, killing 17 and injuring 24. That’s one incident every two weeks.

Still, legislative measures to rein in gun accessibility among American youths continue to flounder in Congress, where lawmakers express skepticism that extending background checks and banning assault rifles with high-capacity magazines will have any bearing on future incidents like Newtown — an incident that, as a visibly irate President Obama pointed out last April, ultimately came down to a too-powerful firearms accessed by someone who should not have had access to it. “There were no coherent arguments for why we wouldn’t do this,” he said in a statement after the The Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 bill died in the Senate. “It just came down to politics.”

Experts also point to the mounting evidence that gun prevalence doesn’t necessarily make a nation safer. In fact, a 2013 study from NYU Langone Medical Center and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests a strong, independent link between gun ownership and firearm deaths. The study also showed that there is no significant link between a nation’s firearm deaths and its burden of psychiatric disease — a relationship opponents of stricter gun control frequently use to argue that the disproportionate amount of firearm deaths in the U.S. is a consequence of poor mental health standards rather than inadequate gun regulation.

“Although correlation is not the same as causation, it seems conceivable that abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which, in turn, increases availability," Co-author Frank Messerli said of the findings, which appeared in The American Journal of Medicine. "Regardless of exact cause and effect, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that countries with higher gun ownership are safer than those with low gun ownership."

Source: Leventhal JM, Gaither JR, Sege R. Hospitalizations Due to Firearm Injuries in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014.