What’s Riskier: A gun or a swimming pool?

I hear all-too-often families talking about how they never let little Johnny go over to little Timmy’s house because “they have a gun in the house.” Instead, they let little Johnny go over to little Billy’s house to swim. Now, if this is a political statement against guns I suppose it makes some sense. However, if this is a calculated risk assessment I find little support for this parental policy.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not a card carrying member of the NRA and I have little agenda other than to help parents raise healthy kids. So first let’s look at guns and their association with mortality or death in kids. There is a great report released by the CDC looking at all gun related deaths in children over a 43 year period in 26 industrialized countries. The bad news, and not really surprising news, is that the US is by far the worst by most measures – at least 10 times worse. That means when comparing the likelihood of your child dying from a gun injury, it is about 10 times more likely if you live in the U.S. vs Canada, Australia, Germany, etc. The good news, however, is that this is a relatively rare event – especially accidental death from kids playing with Dad’s gun that was supposed to be locked away in a safe place.

Now looking at all 26 countries there were 1107 deaths total over 43 years in kids younger than 15. A staggering 957(86%) of those deaths occurred in the US. Of those, only 22% were accidental. Remember, though, that this is a tally over 43 years. So if you do the math 957 x 22% = 210 accidental deaths in the US over 43 years or roughly 5 accidental deaths per year in the U.S. from a firearm. There are an estimated 44 million households in the U.S. with firearms, and thus letting your child play at little Timmy’s house gives him about a 1 in ten million chance of dying there from an accidental gunshot wound (roughly the same risk as being struck by lightning). This is undeniably tragic for those 5 kids and their families each year – but not quite the public health epidemic you might think.

Now, let’s have a look at another great study by the CDC looking at drowning in just the US. This study reviewed all drowning related deaths for one year 2001-2002. There were a staggering 775 drowning deaths in the same younger than 15 year age group. Roughly 137 of those occurred in a swimming pool and 337 occurred in a natural body of water, the rest were unspecified. In the U.S. about 18.5 million American own or have access to a swimming pool. Crunch the numbers for a swimming pool and you get about a one in 100,000 chance of dying in a swimming pool.

Again, if you do the math and let little Johnny go over to little Billy’s house to swim, he is roughly 100 times more likely to have a fatal accident vs. letting him go over to little Timmy’s house, where dad has a gun.

Of course, these are hypothetical and of course, if little Johnny is 8 and knows how to swim, the numbers change. However, what I really want to do is educate parents on how to provide a safe environment for their kids and the kids of their family and friends – both at home and while away from home.

So to start off simple, if you have no gun you cannot be injured by a gun. However, this is America and whether you are a hunter, a gun collector, or are a strong believer in the second amendment- your kids are likely to encounter guns at some point in their life. This is where Smart Parents = Healthy kids. Smart parents will protect their home if there are guns in the house and they will educate their kids about gun safety just in case they run into a gun at little Timmy’s house. Read this simple page from the AAP on gun safety. The main points:

  1. Always keep guns unloaded.
  2. Keep guns and bullets separate.
  3. Keep both locked up and unaccessible to inquisitive kids.
  4. Keep keys hidden.

Just following these simple rules will virtually eliminate any risk to your child.

So what about the far more riskier swimming pool… Well, there are many things you can do and there is a good summary from the AAP here. First and foremost is to prevent access. This means installing a 4-sided, 4-foot, fence with self-locking gates. While most families that have this kind of access prevention (apartment complex, neighborhood pools, etc.), most backyard pools DO NOT have adequate access restriction. In a paper published in Pediatrics it is estimated that this intervention alone can reduce the number of deaths by about 20% and save around 88 lives per year.

Now, for those who complain that they do not like the aesthetic appearance of said fence around their beautifully landscaped backyard pool … well I say, I bet you will like the sight of your child (or one of the neighbor kids) at the bottom of that pool even less. Of all the horrible things I have seen in my career, clearly the most devastating thing a parent can go through is their own child drowning in their backyard pool. The guilt will never escape you. If you have the money to spend on a backyard pool, make sure you spend a little extra and put in a proper fence.

Outside of this critical suggestion, other include:

  1. Small children should ALWAYS be within arms reach.
  2. An adult certified in CPR should ALWAYS supervise.
  3. Small children should ALWAYS wear an approved life-vest.
  4. A blow-up toy-like contraption is NOT a life-vest.
  5. Keep rescue equipment on hand.
  6. Remove all toys from the pool after use (so kids are not tempted to reach for them).

With both guns and pools also know that many studies have confirmed two important things regarding small children:

  1. Swimming lessons DO NOT replace the above guidelines. Small children who cannot swim will still drown if they fall into the swimming pool – even if they had swimming lessons.
  2. Small children cannot be taught gun safety. They do not have the capacity to understand the finality of the consequences and the danger associated with guns.

If you follow these suggestions you can significantly reduce the risk from either of these dangers and still allow your children to pick their friends and enjoy the summer.


Pediatrics: 1998

AAP TIPP: Swimming Pools


MMWR: 2001

MMWR: 1997

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6 Responses to What’s Riskier: A gun or a swimming pool?

  1. Pingback: President Obama! - Page 21

  2. K.C. says:

    “So to start off simple, if you have no gun you cannot be injured by a gun.”

    Not true. You certainly can be injured by the gun of the intruder into your home becuase you failed to take the precaution of having a gun to defend yourself.

  3. DrReynolds says:

    Actually, you more likely to be injured by your own gun in your house than use it to defend yourself from an intruder.

  4. Pingback: Anti-Gun Agenda Placement in “Parents” Magazine? « sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

  5. jpeditor says:

    “Actually, you more likely to be injured by your own gun in your house than use it to defend yourself from an intruder.”

    Have a source for that?

    The National Self-Defense Survey indicated that there were 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use per year in the U.S. during the 1988-1993 period.


    Also if you search “FBI Report: Gun Ownership Is Up, Violent Crime Is Down” you will find that all the “warnings” about increasing lawful civilian gun ownership & concealed carry permits leading to bloodbaths isn’t happening.

    Finally, it’s much more likely that children will DROWN IN THEIR OWN POOL than elsewhere, AND you are more likely to die from a hospital’s or a Dr.’s mistake than from a firearms accident:

    Search “how many Americans died from doctors mistakes” or read this frmo the Houston Chronicle:

    Experts estimate that a staggering 98,000 people die from preventable medical errors each year. More Americans die each month of preventable medical injuries than died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    In addition, a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study concluded that 99,000 patients a year succumb to hospital-acquired infections. Almost all of those deaths, experts say, also are preventable.

    These numbers are not absolutes. There is no definitive study — which is part of the problem — but all of the available research indicates that the death toll from preventable medical injuries approaches 200,000 per year in the United States.

    Read more: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/deadbymistake/6555095.html#ixzz1ScnlMOwG

    IOW, your children are more at risk visiting a Doctor and/or a hospital than by shooting them accidentally while defending your family from criminals, who are usually let out of jail by judges elected by the same ninnies who don’t want to let lawful Americans defend themselves.

    PS – anyone who doesn’t believe in defending themselves or their family or allowing their neighbors to defend themselves should put a sign on their front door like this:


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