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Handguns as a pediatric problem
  1. Katherine K Christoffel,
  2. Tom Christoffel
  1. Northwestern University Medical School and the Children's Memorial Hospital (Dr Christoffel), and the University of Illinois School of Public Health (Tom Christoffel), Chicago
  1. Address for reprints:
 Katherine K Christoffel, MD, MPH, Division of General and Emergency Pediatrics, Children's Memorial Hospital, 2300 Children's Plaza, Chicago, IL 60614, USA.

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Handgun injury is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in American society, particularly among young people. Large numbers of children are affected by handgun violence through the loss of fathers, brothers, and other relatives. Young children are injured, and occasionally killed, in handgun “accidents”. Some young children and many adolescents are murdered with handguns. Like infant mortality, handgun violence in the United States is a medical as well as a social problem. Because of the great lethality of handguns and their very limited ability to provide personal protection, handgun injury can best be reduced by making handguns less available. Handgun control cannot reduce rates of crime or interpersonal assault, but it can reduce the frequency and severity of injury arising from these situations toward the much lower levels found in other countries. The involvement of children in the United States handgun injury epidemic warrants effective pediatrician involvement in efforts toward handgun control.


The first handgun victim in Chicago in 1985 was a 13 year old boy who was killed by a stray bullet from a gun fired in celebration of the New Year's arrival. The same week, an 8 year old Chicago boy killed a 6 year old with a handgun he thought was a toy. A few weeks later, a Chicago child was shot to death on the same street corner on which his grandfather had met a similar fate several years earlier. In July, a 5 year old child sustained irreversible spinal cord injury when playing with a family member's gun. These and numerous similar incidents make it clear that handguns affect and endanger children as well as adults. However, the risk to children is seldom mentioned in debates about handguns, which may explain why pediatricians as a group have not yet confronted handgun control as an …

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