Firearms Research Reveals Impact on Child Survivors of Gun Violence in the U.S.

New York, NY – A recent study has highlighted the alarming fact that firearms are now the leading cause of child deaths in the United States, with devastating effects on young survivors. Research conducted by Northwell Health in collaboration with Stacker has shed light on the impact of nonfatal firearm injuries on children and adolescents.

The resurgence of research on gun violence comes after years of limited funding and restrictions due to the Dickey Amendment, which hindered progress in understanding the full scope of the issue. With 120 deaths and over 200 injuries related to firearms occurring daily in the U.S., the lack of comprehensive national data on nonfatal gun violence injuries has made studying the subject even more challenging.

While mass shootings dominate headlines, they represent only a fraction of gun-related fatalities, which also include suicide, domestic violence, community violence, intimate partner violence, and hate crimes. Studies have revealed that millions of women in the U.S. have experienced firearm violence at the hands of intimate partners, resulting in long-lasting psychological effects.

The study published by Health Affairs found that children and adolescents who survive firearm injuries are at a significantly higher risk of developing pain disorders, psychiatric disorders, and substance use disorders compared to their peers. The impact extends to their parents, who also experience increased rates of psychiatric disorders and mental health visits.

Experts emphasize the importance of tailoring behavioral health care to survivors based on the nature of the violence they experienced, whether interpersonal or self-inflicted. Prolonged stays in intensive care following gun violence incidents can lead to a range of physical, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms, necessitating ongoing healthcare support for survivors.

The mental health effects of gun violence, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD, can have long-lasting consequences on survivors. Many individuals experience hypervigilance and fear, affecting their daily lives and ability to leave their homes. Survivors may develop coping mechanisms akin to war veterans, such as heightened awareness of their surroundings to stay safe.

Despite the pressing need for care, survivors often face barriers in accessing mental health services, especially when insurance coverage falls short. Research has shown that a significant percentage of injured children do not receive mental health care in the aftermath of a firearm incident, with disparities observed in follow-up care based on race and ethnicity.

The study’s reliance on commercial insurance data may underestimate the true impact of gun violence, particularly in cases of suicide involving firearms. Moreover, survivors of gun violence may exhibit a sense of invincibility, potentially leading to risky behaviors like drug use. Young survivors, in particular, may engage in traumatic play as a way to process their experiences, underscoring the long-term psychological effects of gun violence.