Curious children and young adolescents have little fear of playing with shiny objects that they find. That’s why, this holiday season, take steps to make sure that the shiny object isn’t a gun.
“Someone as young as 2 years old can pull the trigger on a handgun,” said Lillian Liao, MD, associate professor of surgery in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. She is also the pediatric trauma and burn director at University Hospital.
Firearm injuries in adults and children have increased 20% during this very-stressful year, including a 35% rise in pediatric firearm injuries.
Even more troubling, “The number of deaths by firearm due to suicide in children is drastically increasing,” Dr. Liao said. “The holidays are difficult for some people, and when you add the social isolation of the pandemic, it is especially important to focus on safe storage of firearms to keep the people around us safe.”
Dr. Liao said the hospital documented 38 cases of firearm-related injuries in children over a five-month period from June to October 2020.
“Safety is the way to prevent these tragedies,” she said. “During this holiday season, as we mask and social distance and practice other safe behaviors to reduce our risk of COVID-19, let’s also practice safety as gun owners. Unplanned discharges can and should be prevented.”
One way is for gun owners to install locks on their weapons. Another way is to store the gun separately from ammunition. And if the gun has been cleaned, store it immediately!
Violence prevention education is also part of the strategy. Texas Health and Human Services launched a 24/7 statewide mental health support line to help Texans experiencing anxiety, stress or emotional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Call toll-free at 1-833-986-1919 at any time to speak to a counselor.
“Averting violence is more challenging during the pandemic,” Dr. Liao said. “As people spend more time at home, and economic and other stresses increase, unplanned discharges become more of an issue.”
GunSafety4Bexar, a program launched by a coalition of organizations including the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and University Health, has made thousands of gun locks available to owners free of charge. The program also teaches them how to safely store firearms.
The American College of Surgeons created a firearms injury prevention task force to respond to the recent upsurge in injuries. Many surgeons and other experts nationwide are creating programs to intervene in the crisis.
Just as there is prevention for stroke, heart disease and cancer, there is prevention for firearm injury.
“We need to get into everybody’s minds that we can prevent firearm injury and violence,” said Dr. Liao, who treated survivors of the Sutherland Springs shootings. “Our goal is to save lives.”
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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, also referred to as UT Health San Antonio, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities and is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. With missions of teaching, research, patient care and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have graduated more than 37,000 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields, and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.
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