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Study: More Kids Suffer Firearm Injuries than Previously Believed

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Each year, more than 20,000 children go to U.S. emergency rooms with gun injuries, a new study estimates. That number is 30 percent higher than what researchers had previously found.

Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston analyzed reports from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey of U.S. emergency department visits from 1999 to 2007. In those eight years, they counted nearly 186,000 children, from newborns to 19-year-olds, who had been treated for firearm injuries. About 8,300 of those injuries proved fatal.

The study found that non-Caucasian boys age 12 and older were most likely to be injured by a gun. Forty-seven percent of the injuries they counted were in the South, but the Midwestern states had the highest proportion of firearm injuries relative to the population size.

Dr. Saranya Srinivasan, one of the study's authors, said the pediatric emergency physicians have kept track of the numbers of children injured by guns for many years, but the higher numbers her study found were surprising.

"Perhaps the scope of this problem is much larger than what we had originally thought," she said.

The study, which Srinivasan and her colleagues were to present Monday at the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual conference, found that 63 percent of the firearm injuries were intentional -- from homicides, suicide attempts, or encounters with law enforcement. The remaining 37 percent were unintentional injuries that could have resulted from accidents in homes or on hunting trips.

"If one-third of these injuries are unintentional, that means they're possibly preventable through things like more careful firearm storage and better education about gun safety," said Dr. Lois Lee, one of the study's authors.

The study indicated that more children have been injured not just from gun accidents but also from violence involving firearms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the best way for parents to keep their children from being injured by guns is to keep them out of homes. But for parents who do have guns in the house, the AAP says they should be kept unloaded and locked away, bullets should be locked and stored separately from the guns, and the keys to gun lock boxes should be hidden from children.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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