More children die in street shootings Fewer killed by guns at home, study says

July 26, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Fewer Maryland children are dying in firearms accidents at home, but more are being gunned down on the streets, researchers say.

Gunfire took the lives of 92 Maryland children under age 16 in the past four years, and the rates of homicide and handgun use in firearms deaths increased sharply, University of Maryland medical school researchers have found.

"We have a serious health problem here, and it's nationwide," said Dr. Bonnie L. Beaver, lead author of the study.

"There are more children in the 'lean teen' years, between 9 and 13, who are on the street being caught in the cross fire," she said.

The researchers compared state death statistics for two time periods: January 1979 through October 1987 (the subject of an earlier study), and November 1987 through December 1991.

The new study is to be published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.

The rate of firearms deaths increased from 14 per year in the first period to 22 per year in the past four years, researchers found.

Homicides accounted for two-thirds of the firearms deaths of Maryland children in recent years, up from less than half in the first period studied.

But fatal firearms accidents dropped from 25 percent of the incidents in the first period to 8 percent in the second.

"The small improvement in accidental home fatalities unfortunately is overshadowed by the reverse scenario of increasing homicidal handgun street violence," said Dr. Beaver, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland medical school.

The deadly trend has apparently gotten worse this year, Dr. Beaver said.

Twenty-four children have been treated for gunshot wounds since January at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins hospitals alone, and a half-dozen of them died, she said.

Dr. Beaver called for "more aggressive handgun legislation" to reduce access to weapons.

A 1988 Maryland law established a board to approve handguns made or sold in the state.

The law was upheld at referendum in November 1988 despite a $6.6 million campaign waged against it by the National Rifle Association.

The Handgun Roster Board has banned about 30 so-called "Saturday night specials," or low-quality handguns, said Matthew Fenton IV, a board member who represents Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

Various other handguns are not sold in the state because their manufacturers have not sought a seal of approval from the Handgun Roster Board.

The board's rulings apply only to handguns sold in Maryland after Jan. 1, 1990.

Mr. Fenton said the proliferation of semiautomatic handguns with large-capacity magazines in the past few years has outweighed any progress the state has made in taking Saturday night specials off the market.

Maryland children killed by firearms*

..... ..... Jan. '79- ..... ..... Nov. '87-

...... ..... Oct. '87 ...... ..... Dec. '91

Average deaths

0$ per year..... ..... 14 ..... 22

Type of fatality:*

Accident........ ..... 25%...... 8%

Homicide........ ..... 46%..... 67%

Suicide......... ..... 22%..... 16%

Other........... ...... 2%...... 4%

Undetermined.... ...... 5%...... 4%

Weapon used in fatality:

Handgun......... ..... 48%..... 60%

Unspecified..... ..... 12%..... 24%

Rifle........... ..... 17%..... 13%

Shotgun......... ..... 22%...... 3%

Air rifle....... ...... 1%...... 0%

Gender of victim:

Male............ ..... 77%..... 82%

Female.......... ..... 23%..... 18%

Drug-related

fatalities...... ..... 14%..... 25%

* Children under 16 years old; figures may not add to 100 because of rounding.

Source: University of Maryland School of Medicine, Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Systems Services and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

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