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Pediatricians urged to ask parents: Is your gun safely stored?

"Pediatric Trauma Bay" at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. All pediatric trauma patients are first brought here to be assessed and stabilized. Children presenting with gunshot wounds are often very serious and require a team of experts.
Deepa Fernandes / KPCC

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First it was screen time, now the American Association of Pediatrics is taking on gun safety.

In a new report published in the February issue of its journal, Pediatrics, it reported that 7,391 children were hospitalized for gunshot wounds in the U.S. in 2009 — about 20 a day. Of those, 1,000 were under the age of 15.

The study found more than half of the injuries — 4, 559 — were the result of assaults. Another 270 were suicide attempts. Of all the children hospitalized, 453 died from their injuries.

Children who died before reaching the hospital were not included in the study. For 2009, that amounted to an additional 3,000 children, according to study author John Leventhal, a professor of Pediatrics at Yale Medical School. That brings the total number of victims to more than 10,000  for 2009.

Leventhal said he took on the study after coming across statistics of gunshot hospitalizations for children while looking at government data for a separate project on hospitalizations.

The new study calls on pediatricians to talk with parents about safe gun storage at home. Leventhal found that traumatic brain injury related to gunshot wounds occurred most often in children under 5.

“The safest home for a child is a home without guns," the report concludes, "and if there is a gun in the home, it must be stored unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked separately.”

In Los Angeles County, only 32 children were hospitalized for gunshot injuries in 2012, the most recent data available. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles treated four of them. 

Elizabeth Cleek, who runs the hospital's pediatric trauma department said the few they see are "devastating" all the same.

She agrees pediatricians should be on the front lines of educating parents at every well child visit. Parents need to understand that a 2 year-old can “climb, reach and explore things at a new level,” she said, and this can leads to accidents if they are not safely storing guns.