Gun Violence: A Chronic Disease Affecting American Youth

Meghan Summer Perez Muir, MSN, RN, CNL


Pediatr Nurs. 2021;47(4):200-201. 

In This Article

Gun Violence Affects Children of all Ages

Unintentional firearm injuries and deaths affect all age groups. Toddlers are strong enough to pull the trigger on a gun. Suicide by firearm is a subset of gun violence that is particularly concerning for adolescent youth. The literature shows the risk of suicide among adolescents increases when firearms are present in the home. Further, rates of adolescent suicide are even higher in homes with loaded guns (Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention Executive Committee, 2012). Paradoxically, gun owners with children aged 13 to 17 years were more likely to store unlocked guns in the home compared to those with younger children. Peer influence, a desire for independence, impulsive behaviors, and risk-taking may contribute to adolescents carrying and using firearms, making gun storage in the homes of adolescents especially dangerous (Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention Executive Committee, 2012).

While injuries and fatalities are devastating consequences of gun violence affecting American youth, there are also far-reaching, detrimental psychological, physical, and societal impacts to consider. Exposure to violence and crime have been linked to increased risk of mental health disorders among children, including substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Finkelhor et al., 2013). Children subjected to violence are also more likely to develop aggressive or violent behaviors later in life (Finkelhor et al., 2013). The ripple effect sustained from gun violence exposure is felt in school performance because students exposed to gun violence have poorer grades, higher rates of school absences, lower standardized test scores, and lower rates of high school graduation (Finkelhor et al., 2013; Harding, 2009; Hurt et al., 2001). Neighborhood safety concerns also lead to decreased physical activity, particularly outdoors, contributing to weight-related health issues. As gun violence is often concentrated in urban settings rooted in poverty, educational inequities, and health disparities, these links become the bitter ingredients in a cyclical recipe for continued violence.