20230723 gun video
The researchers cite the content of the gun-safety video, which featured a uniformed police officer, as a possible reason for its effectiveness. (For illustrative purposes only.) Image Credit: Pixabay

Could a short video save lives?

That's the implication of a new analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics, which observed children's behaviors after they watched a brief gun-safety video.

In the study, researchers at Ohio State University investigated whether safety videos could decrease children's unsafe behaviors around guns - a timely topic given that firearms are the leading cause of death among U.S. children ages 1 through 17. They had 226 8-to-12-year-olds watch either a randomly assigned, minute-long gun-safety or car-safety video at home.

also read

A week later, the kids were paired up in the lab and shown 20 minutes of a violent PG-rated movie with or without guns. After that, the children were left in another room with toys and games - and two unloaded and disabled 9mm handguns hidden in a file cabinet drawer. The guns were real but had been modified so they couldn't fire, and they had been tricked out with a sensor that counted the number of times a trigger was pulled with sufficient force to discharge the gun. The children were told to play with whatever they wanted, then left alone for 20 minutes while a hidden camera recorded their actions.

Although the guns were out of sight, that didn't stop the preteens from finding them: 216 kids, or 95.6 percent of them, discovered the firearms. Watching the video appeared to affect what the kids did next. Preteens who had seen the gun-safety video were much likelier to tell an adult they had found a gun: 33.9 percent of those who watched the gun-safety video told an adult vs. 10.6 percent of those who had watched the car-safety video.

Over half of the children ended up handling the guns, touching them for an average of one minute and nine seconds. Trigger sensors recorded that about 9 percent of those who had watched the gun-safety video and found the guns pulled the trigger, compared to 29.8 percent of the others.

Overall, the researchers write, the children pulled the triggers 1,222 times - and in 34.4 percent of those trigger pulls, children either pointed the disabled guns at themselves or at the other child in the room.

Being male, consuming more age-inappropriate movies and reporting higher interest in guns were all associated with more gun handling and trigger pulls. Living in a home with guns, taking a previous gun-safety course and reporting negative attitudes toward guns were associated with safer behavior.

The researchers cite the content of the gun-safety video, which featured a uniformed police officer, as a possible reason for its effectiveness. Children find uniformed authority figures persuasive, they write, suggesting that law enforcement get involved in promoting safe gun behavior for children.

Most parents and guardians in the study thought their child would be safe around guns, the researchers write. Yet fewer than a quarter total told the adults they had found a gun, while more than half touched the firearms.

"We recommend that adults teach children about gun safety and reduce their exposure to age-inappropriate media," the researchers write. "It is well past time for the U.S. to also take steps to reduce firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents."