THURSDAY, Aug. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. gun sales increased early in the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of those firearms ended up in homes with teens, researchers say.
"This finding is concerning because we know that the single biggest risk factor for adolescent firearm injuries is access to an unsecured firearm," said study co-author Dr. Patrick Carter. He is co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
A national survey of primary caretakers of teenagers found that 10% of those households bought a gun between March and July of 2020, and 3% became first-time gun owners. The survey was conducted by the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens (FACTS) Consortium.
In homes that already had a gun, new guns were more likely to be bought by those who already reported storing at least one gun unlocked and loaded, according to the study.
It's not clear what prompted the increase in gun buying identified in the survey, but it raises concerns, the researchers said.
"This study demonstrates that we have more work to do to help families that already have firearms, or may purchase new firearms, to reduce the potential risks to their children by promoting safer storage practices that help to reduce the risk of teen firearm injury and death," Carter said in a school news release.
Each year, nearly 50 out of every 100,000 U.S. high school-age teens are injured by guns and 10 out of every 100,000 are killed. Teens in that age group are more likely to die from a gun injury than any other cause, the researchers added.
There was no association between the mental health status of parents or teens and the likelihood of buying a gun. However, one in seven (14%) of the households that bought a gun in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic also had a teen with depression symptoms, according to the survey.
The study findings have significant implications for public health. The results were published online recently in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Study co-author Marc Zimmerman, co-director of the Firearm Injury Prevention Institute, said, "If we know that families are storing firearms unsafely and that a certain amount of them have teens who are experiencing depression, that can inform how we would tailor messaging around safe storage to families at increased risk."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on guns in the home.
SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, July 30, 2021