Twenty-two percent of the gunshot wound patients treated at New Hanover Regional Medical Center so far this year received those wounds as a result of an accidental shooting.
Some accidental gunshot wounds can be minor – in fact, some people with injuries to the toes don’t seek medical attention because they don’t want to report the accidental shooting. Other wounds can be more severe or even life-threatening. Anyone with an unintentional gunshot wound should call 911.
In an effort to prevent harm from accidental gunshot wounds, NHRMC Trauma Services advises gun owners to rigorously use safe storage practices.
“We urge gun owners to safely store guns unloaded and locked,” said Meredith Spell, RN, Injury and Violence Prevention Coordinator for NHRMC Trauma Services. “This helps prevent accidental gunshot wounds, whether that be to the owner while cleaning or handling a gun, or a child gaining access to a weapon.”
In addition to storing guns unloaded and locked, Trauma Services recommends keeping ammunition locked and stored separately. Guns and ammunition can be stored locked away in a lock box or locked vault/safe.
In fact, it is a misdemeanor in North Carolina to store or leave a firearm in your home in such a manner that an unsupervised minor gains access to it without permission from a parent or guardian.
“I do encourage parents to ask the homeowners where their children are going to spend the night about whether they own guns and how they store their guns,” Spell said. “That can be an awkward conversation at first. But it’s important to broach the subject so you can make an informed choice about your child’s safety.”
Proper gun storage also can help prevent theft, she said.
“If your gun is stored in a safe or in a lock box, it’s going to be a lot harder for somebody to steal that from your home,” Spell said.
Gun theft is a common way for criminals to get their hands on firearms, according to a 2017 study by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Department of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.
The study estimates 380,000 guns are stolen each year in the United States in about 250,000 separate incidents.
Guns are more likely to be stolen if they are not stored safely. While the South is home to 37 percent of U.S. households, about two-thirds of guns stolen are from the region, the study found.
“Even though you have the right to own a gun, there are responsibilities that come along with that right,” Spell said.
If you ever feel unsafe around someone who has a firearm, you should call 911.
The below statistics do not always distinguish between accidental and other types of shootings, but present information on deaths and injuries related to firearms.
Gunshot wounds treated at NHRMC
From 2014 to September 2019, New Hanover Regional Medical Center treated 614 trauma patients with gunshot wounds. Of those gunshot wounds, 77, or 12.5 percent, resulted in death.
Source: NHRMC Trauma Services
Gun deaths in the United States
Gun-related deaths from preventable, intentional and undetermined causes totaled 39,773 in 2017, a 2.9 percent increase from 38,658 deaths in 2016.
Suicides account for 60 percent of deaths related to firearms, while 37 percent were homicides and about 1 percent were preventable/accidental.
From 1999 to 2017, preventable gun-related deaths have decreased 41 percent, from 824 to 486 deaths.
Source: National Safety Council
Gun deaths in North Carolina in 2017: 1,430
Source: National Center for Health Statistics
Firearm injuries and deaths among NC children and youth (ages 0-17 years)
777 emergency room visits
314 emergency room visits
Source: N.C. Division of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, Child Fatality Task Force