Correction to This Article
Contrary to a May 30 Health article, 151 children ages 19 and younger were unintentionally killed by firearms in 2003, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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In Harm's Way: Guns and Kids

(Munz - Getty Images)

"Teaching kids to be safe around guns doesn't work" in preventing accidents, said Jon Vernick, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Studies have found that children exposed to Eddie Eagle programs are no less likely to play with guns than children who don't take the class, he added.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam disputed that.

"This is probably the first time I've heard that education is a bad thing and not effective," he said. The Eddie Eagle program was developed about 10 years ago by a psychologist and has been endorsed by the Justice Department, he said. Its adoption by school districts around the country, Arulanandam said, "is a testament to its effectiveness."

He also declined to comment on the latest study, saying that NRA researchers hadn't analyzed it yet.

Dead Silent

Americans own about 200 million firearms, and 35 percent of homes nationwide are believed to contain at least one gun, according to federal estimates.

In the Washington area, gun ownership is highest in Virginia, which mirrors the national average, while an estimated 22 percent of Maryland homes have a gun. In the District, where handguns are outlawed, people in 4 percent of homes report owning a firearm, according to a survey conducted in 2001 by North Carolina health officials. Gun ownership is highest in the rural South and parts of the West.

Both Maryland and Virginia are among 18 states that have passed laws requiring parents to store weapons so children can't gain easy access to them.

Last September, a study by researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns. More than 500 children die annually from accidental gunshots: Some shoot themselves, while others kill friends or siblings, often after discovering a gun.

Earlier this month the 10-year-old son of a New York City police officer died after he shot himself in the face with his father's loaded revolver. The boy found the weapon on a shelf in the basement while looking for a ball his mother had hidden.

Last February a 13-year-old boy shot himself with a semiautomatic handgun in the home of his guardian, a Prince George's County police officer.

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that pediatricians ask parents about guns in the home as part of what it calls "anticipatory guidance" -- attempts to keep children safe in cars, on bikes, around swimming pools and elsewhere. Some groups are encouraging parents to ask other adults in homes where children will be playing whether guns are present and how they are stored -- a conversation experts say they know many parents are reluctant to have for fear of seeming intrusive or alarmist.

Fairfax pediatrician James Baugh said he stopped asking parents about guns because many seemed annoyed and most told him they knew what to do. Occasionally, he said, a parent told him she kept a gun under her pillow.

Stuart Weich, a partner in one of Montgomery County's biggest pediatric practices, said he often asks gun questions, especially when he interviews teenagers whom he sees separately from their parents.

"In 15 years I can only think of a handful of parents who actually admitted it," said Weich. "I know they're out there.

Hopkins's Vernick said that a public service campaign known as "ASK" -- Asking Saves Kids -- is trying to persuade parents to inquire about guns in the homes of their children's playmates.

"This is about slowly trying to change norms," he said. "Twenty years ago no one would have thought it was normal or socially acceptable to have a designated driver or take away a friend's keys." ยท

Comments: For a look at state child access prevention laws, see Join study co-author Matthew Miller at 2 p.m. today at for a Live Online chat on gun safety and children.

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