Firearm availability impacts the mental health and violent tendencies of youths, according to new research by a University of Colorado pediatrician.

(Image via Flickr user NimonPro.com)

When adolescents die,  29 percent of the time it is because of guns. A new study done in two Denver neighborhoods shows that adolescents who have access to guns in their own homes or at a friend's are at higher risk for mental health problems and violent behavior.

Dr. Eric Sigel, a University of Colorado School of Medicine professor of pediatrics and an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado, recently completed that study as part of a larger research project looking into adolescent behaviors. Among his findings:

  • Study participants at higher risk for violent behavior are five times more likely to know where to get a gun than those not at risk.
  • Youths who attempted suicide were more than twice as likely to have a friend with a handgun.   
  • Adolescents and youths who self-report having a mental health issue are twice as likely to say that getting a gun would be easy.
  • Those participants whose parents own a firearm were three times more likely to say that it would be easy to get a gun if they wanted one.

Dr. Eric Sigel

(Courtesy CU School of Medicine)

Sigel  presented his findings to a gathering of the American Academy of Pediatricians in San Francisco. He urged attendees to counsel families of higher-risk youth on the safest way to keep firearms away from their children, either removing guns from homes or keeping them in lock boxes or safe storage devices that kids don't know how to access.  

"This is particularly important when considering that 68 percent of attackers in school shootings obtained the guns from their own home or that of a relative, and 85 percent of youth who commit suicide used a gun from their home," he said.

Sigel also urges pediatricians and other healthcare providers to routinely ask patients and their families about gun access.

Sigel spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about his findings.

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