Americans and guns, in the eyes of the majority of the international community, go hand in hand. Americans own 48 percent of the world’s guns, with an average of 89 guns per 100 people. Forty-two percent of adults in America report having a gun in their household, and about 3 in 10 Americans are owners of said guns. Gun homicide rates in the United States are more than 25 times higher than in other developed countries. Suicide by gun rates are eight times higher in the U.S. than in other high-income countries.

While the physical costs of gun ownership are well-documented and conclusively detrimental to the health of Americans nationwide, University of Wisconsin graduate student Jinho Kim’s research has revealed that gun ownership can also negatively affect the mental health of people who are often in contact with firearms.

More specifically, Kim found that children living in households with easier access to guns are more likely to be depressed. Using studies spanning two decades of research into the adverse effects of firearms, Kim found that around one fifth of American gun owners with minors in the household keep their firearms loaded, and about 10 percent store them both loaded and unlocked. The fear of gun-related accidents due to careless storage and treatment of firearms, Kim argues, contributes to a child’s sense of insecurity or lack of safety at home or at school.

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Using data collected from seventh to 12th-graders between 1994 and 1995 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, Kim found that girls living in homes with easy access to firearms were three percent less likely to feel safe at school than their peers, both male and female, confirming that women are less likely to feel safe when there is a gun in their household.

While a 3 percentage point difference doesn’t seem like a lot, research equating various consequences of depression to adult earning power shows that the effects guns are having on children, especially on young girls, are equivalent to a child born at an abnormally low birth weight or losing nearly a year of college education. In other words, guns can cause young girls to feel so insecure and unsafe that they become depressed, and are consequently set back developmentally as they mature and enter the workforce.

Guns are dangerous and guns do kill people, regardless of those who argue that it’s the people behind the trigger responsible. Increased rates of gun-related violence and gun related deaths are directly correlated to and caused by an increased number of guns present in a community, and gun control is as imperative as ever in the wake of  the Parkland school shooting in February. With the nation’s attention focused on gun laws and gun control, the conversation needs to expand beyond the physical damage guns and gun owners can cause to address the psychological effects firearms are having on children.

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Young girls are already subjected to substantial societal pressures to conform to certain beauty standards, be docile and “lady-like” and conduct themselves in a manner that won’t entice their male peers. Mental health issues like PTSD resulting from sexual assault, sexual harassment, depression and body image disorders due to unrealistic and harmful portrayals of the “ideal” female body can manifest as extensions of said societal expectations. It goes without saying that these are issues that demand resolution and the breaking down of gender constructions.

Guns are something that, as Kim’s research proves, are also causing relatively substantial, long-lasting mental health problems and depression in girls who live in an environment where guns are present. But the mental health effects of guns are not discussed, nor are they common knowledge, but they desperately need to be.

Children should not grow up being told that owning five guns is the only way to ensure their family’s safety or assert their own power. Children should not be receiving guns as a birthday present before they can drive a car or vote in an election. The normalization of weapons by adults in our society, and the mental health problems this poses for children needs to be addressed and radically revised in order to ensure  future generations do not suffer physically or mentally from the rampant gun culture currently driving the conversation about gun legislation.

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The safety and mental well-being of a child should always and inarguably outweigh the desire of a parent or member of the household’s to keep a firearm in the residence, regardless of whether or not the firearm is properly stored. Kim’s research not only reiterates the immense impact the presence of a weapon can have on a child’s sense of safety in their own homes, but serves as a reminder that guns evoke a visceral image not of protection but of damage and violence in many people.

Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.