Dartmouth Health joins national gun safety movement to address guns as leading cause of death in children

A child reaching across a table to a handgun

Guns are the leading cause of death for children. Thirteen children die from guns every day. To encourage parents, grandparents, families and community members to take action by asking about gun safety, Dartmouth Health and Dartmouth Health Children’s join thousands of hospitals, health systems, the American Hospital Association, Children’s Hospital Association and The Catholic Health Association of the United States in a nationwide public awareness and education campaign.

By asking about safe gun storage, the campaign is meant to help parents and families feel empowered to ask other parents about access to guns. Broadcast, print and digital public service messages and a website highlight that access to unlocked guns can lead to accidental death, suicide and gun violence, making it more likely that children die from guns than cancer or automobile accidents. The website provides tips on how to have a conversation with other parents and families about safely stored firearms, and encourages nomalizing this conversation.

“Our health system is home to the most rural academic medical center in the United States. Gun ownership—for hunting, sport and personal protection—is a normal part of life in New Hampshire and Vermont,” said Joanne M. Conroy, MD, CEO and president of Dartmouth Health. “What should be equally normal is a commitment by responsible gun owners to store their firearms securely, especially in spaces where children are present. By making the commitment to ask parents if guns are being stored safely, Dartmouth Health providers are taking an important step to educate families and possibly save lives.”

The rate of firearm deaths among children and adolescents jumped nearly 30 percent from 2019 to 2020—more than twice as high as the relative increase in the general population. While the horrors of Uvalde, Sandy Hook and Columbine grabbed the headlines, increasing numbers of children are injured or killed by unsecured firearms.

“Firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents in the U.S., at least three times as lethal as COVID-19, which is why I am so pleased that Dartmouth Health Children’s is joining a new national coalition aimed at increasing firearm safety to protect all kids,” said Keith J. Loud, MD, physician-in-chief at Dartmouth Health Children’s. “Pediatricians at Dartmouth Health Children’s have asked about unlocked guns in the home since the late 1990s, and we’ve had robust gun lock and firearm safety programs in place for many years through the great work of our Injury Prevention Center. But the increasing numbers of children and adolescents who are dying in gun-related incidents has forced the need for new thinking and new action. We know that parents want to know about anything that might cause harm to their children, so why not ask about unlocked guns?”

Studies show that more than two-thirds of gun owners who live with kids do not store their guns safely: more than 4.5 million children in this country live with unlocked, loaded firearms. Locking up guns and ammunition can reduce the risk of self-inflicted or unintentional injury to kids by as much as 85 percent.

“While it starts with a simple call to action—‘How can we get everyone to ask about a child’s access to unsecured firearms?’—it might feel like an uncomfortable, hot-button political issue. But make no mistake: this campaign isn’t about gun rights or gun ownership. It’s about firearm safety, and how we can take a common-sense, actionable approach to ensure that our children are safe from injury and death due to unsecured firearms,” said Loud.

To learn more, visit HospitalsUnited.com.

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 56 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, which includes Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital, and multiple clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Bennington and Windsor, VT; Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.