JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On average, 20 children across the country are hospitalized every day for gun-related injuries, according to a recent study by Children's National Health System researchers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death for youths.
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But in the study released May 23, researchers said, pediatricians can play a big role in helping to reduce gun violence.
The shocking numbers hit close to home. In Jacksonville, seven children have been shot since February -- two were killed, some of the shootings were accidental and some were homicides. Early Saturday, a 16-year-old girl and 9-year-old girl were injured in a triple shooting on the city's Westside.
Jen McKenna, the mother of a 17-year-old, told News4Jax on Tuesday that she knows she has to be careful since her son, Ryan, is at the age when he's active and curious. She said she also knows she has to be especially careful when it comes to firearms.
"We do (have a gun in the home), and we do think about it," McKenna said.
With another baby on the way, McKenna said, she and her husband are doing everything they can to keep the children out of harm’s way.
"(We're) definitely taking safety and precautions -- locking it up, keeping it unloaded," she said. "We talked about getting rid of it, too."
But not all parents are as responsible. According to the review by the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., doctors hold the key to lowering the statistics.
"As a parent, as well as her pediatrician, I found these types of injuries and fatalities just alarming and heartbreaking -- something that is preventable," said Kavita Parikh, M.D., M.S.H.S., associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Hospitalist Medicine at Children’s National and the study's lead author.
Parikh and her team discovered 20,000 American children are transported to emergency rooms each year for firearm-related injuries. The causes can be accidental, homicide or suicide. The study also found 40 percent of parents did not think their children knew where they stored their weapons.
"Unfortunately, parents have a false sense of security and, unfortunately, we see a disconnect that children and adolescents are able to access these firearms," Parikh said.
But researchers said education helps, and physicians can play a big role in reducing the number of injuries and deaths.
"We really want to implore our pediatricians to ask patients and families about firearm access and ask about safe storage practices," Parikh said. "We want to make sure the parents themselves can ask these questions when their child is not going to be at home."
It's a difficult question, Parikh said, but it's necessary. McKenna agreed.
"I definitely think it'll be a good thing for pediatricians to talk about," McKenna said.
Researchers found that summertime is even more dangerous because children are home from school and they may go to a friend's or family member's house. That's why parents need to check the safety at other homes as well as their own.
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