Amy Hunter, assistant professor of public health sciences at UConn Health, is investigating the historically overlooked area of pediatric firearm-related deaths. Hunter’s project is supported by a $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Hunter will work to create a more complete understanding of which children are most likely to be impacted by firearm violence in different circumstances. This work will help inform policy and practice interventions focused on decreasing pediatric firearm injury and death.
Firearm injury is one of the leading causes of death for children in the United States. In 2018, firearms were involved in 6,500 non-fatal pediatric injuries and 1,700 child deaths in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This rate increased 31% between 2010 and 2018, indicating the need for a swift public health response.
Historically, studies of pediatric (defined as those from zero to 17 years old) firearm injury and death have been limited to data sources with small sample sizes and a limited geographic scope. This has led research efforts on this topic to lag behind other areas of pediatric health, despite the fact that firearms are attributed to more pediatric deaths than heart disease, influenza and pneumonia, sepsis, and cerebrovascular diseases combined.
Furthermore, recent studies have identified racial disparities in these injuries and deaths. These studies found Black children are the most frequent victims of pediatric firearm homicide, which account for roughly half of all firearm deaths among children. White children, by contrast, are most vulnerable to suicide-related firearm deaths.
There is a significant research gap regarding the circumstantial characteristics that contribute to racial and ethnic disparities associated with pediatric homicides and suicides.
“Firearms have been implicated in more than 14,000 pediatric deaths between 2010 and 2019,” Hunter says. “Identifying the underlying risk factors attributed these deaths and disaggregating them by race/ethnicity is necessary to establish effective intervention and ensure equitable child health and development.”
In this new study, Hunter will use data from 17 states in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) from 2014 to 2018. The demographics represented in NVDRS closely matches those of the U.S. population, making it a valuable resource. NVDRS contains information on more than 600 variables on the deceased, perpetrators, crime scene, and forensic exams including law enforcement and medical examiner reports.
While other studies have leveraged the information available through NVDRS, none have focused specifically on the characteristics, circumstances, and racial and ethnic disparities in these deaths. Access to this level of detailed data will allow Hunter to create an unprecedentedly complete picture of pediatric firearm deaths and injuries.
Hunter will combine quantitative and qualitative methods to capture the unique and complex circumstances surrounding each case.
The NVDRS data will allow Hunter to examine familial and circumstantial characteristics of each incident including whether they involved intimate partner violence, financial stress, health problems, substance misuse, legal troubles, or gang activity.
She will then look at how these factors may vary by race or ethnicity and determine which groups are disproportionately impacted in different circumstances.
Ultimately, Hunter hopes this work can help provide the necessary context on pediatric firearm deaths to inform future prevention efforts and make them more effective.
Hunter holds an MPH and a Ph.D. from West Virginia University. Her research focuses on child maltreatment prevention, and interventions to improve detection in clinical settings. She is the PI of the Connecticut Injury Surveillance System at Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center.