A short gun safety video can reduce the likelihood of a child picking up a gun without adult supervision.
Those are the findings of a randomized clinical trial published by the JAMA Pediatrics journal earlier this week. It examined how children aged 8 to 12 interact with a real gun after watching a gun-safety video at home. They were compared to those who watched a car-safety video at home instead. Of the 216 full participants, those who watched the gun-safety video were less likely to touch the gun or pull its trigger and more likely to tell an adult.
“Children who had previously taken a gun safety course, had guns in the home, and had negative attitudes toward guns were less likely to engage in unsafe behavior around real guns,” the authors wrote. “To encourage safe firearm behavior, children should be educated about gun safety.”
The results suggest even small uncontroversial interventions could help further reduce accidental shooting deaths among children.
Brad Bushman, a professor at the Ohio State University, and Sophie Kjaervick, a PHD candidate, used an experiment to determine if a short safety video could promote caution with guns. They sought to fill a gap in the research around children’s gun safety since prior research has focused on compiling data and finding correlations, not conducting experiments.
“There’s no other experimental study on gun safety … at least that we could find,” Bushman told CNN. “This is the only one ever conducted.”
While participating, the children watched their assigned safety video at home before heading to the laboratory a week later. At the laboratory, they were paired up to watch a 20-minute clip from a PG-rated violent movie, with variability if the scenes they watched included guns or not. Afterward, the two kids were placed in a room and told to play with some toys on offer.
However, there were also two real but disabled guns hidden in a nearby drawer. The situation was created to simulate when adults fail to secure and lock their firearms, leaving the door open for their children to find and misuse them. 96 percent of participating children found the handguns in under 20 minutes.
The study found children who watched the gun safety video instead of the car safety one were 23.3 percent more likely to tell an adult, 28 percent less likely to touch the gun, and 20.9 percent less likely to pull the trigger.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) said the findings are evidence its Eddie Eagle video program is an effective means of reducing accidental shootings among children. They claim they’ve taught over 30 million children to “Stop, don’t touch, run away, tell a grown-up” if they encounter a gun.
“A recent study affirms the value of such initiatives, as children who watched a similar safety video were 28% less likely to touch a found gun,” the group tweeted.
However, the researchers said that while their study did not compare the video they produced with the Eddie Eagle videos, the results indicated NRA’s efforts could be improved. They suggested switching to videos featuring real-world authority figures instead of cartoon characters.
“Perhaps our gun safety video was effective because it featured an authority figure with credibility for our participants—the OSU police chief in full uniform. Previous research has shown that younger children find authority figures in uniforms to be especially persuasive. These findings suggest that we can use law enforcement to develop interventions aimed at promoting safe behavior among young children,” they wrote. “In contrast, the firearm safety video by the National Rifle Association has been found to be ineffective, perhaps because it features a cartoon bird called Eddie Eagle.”
The researchers also identified other factors outside their control that were significant to whether the children handled the guns unsafely.
“One [protective factor] was previous exposure to gun safety material in a course or video. Another was having guns in the home, which makes sense because surveys find that parents with guns are more likely to talk to their children about gun safety than parents without guns,” they said in The Conversation, a news site focusing on academic research. “Finally, having negative attitudes about guns, like believing they’re not cool or fun, made kids less likely to engage in unsafe behavior in our study.”
Conversely, the study’s abstract states that unsafe behavior was related to “being male, exposure to age-inappropriate movies, and gun interest.”
However, it found that watching a PG-rated movie segment with guns or without guns didn’t lead to changes in behavior. Including such details in the experiment drew criticism from Dr. Chris Rees, a physician, and professor from Emory University, who did not participate in the study.
“I don’t think a practical component in a real world application would be expose them to some sort of violent media to prime them,” Rees told CNN. “The importance of any study is how you translate this to real life.”
Research is still being conducted on the topic, and the authors recommend longitudinal studies that can more accurately measure the effects an upbringing has on gun safety.