Philadelphia hospitals launch child gun safety effort

gun safety
Scott Charles is the trauma outreach manager at Temple University Hospital.
Temple University Health System

Nearly 60 hospitals in the Philadelphia region are banding together to launch a campaign aimed at preventing accidental shootings and other gun-related injuries involving children.

The coalition, which includes Jefferson Health, Penn Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, among others, is encouraging parents to make sure firearms are secured when their child goes to a friend’s house.

The message – under the tagline “doesn’t hurt to ask” – is being pushed through a new website,, as well as broadcast, print and digital public service advertisements.

Parents, the site suggests, can broach the topic with other parents by saying their doctor or a friend asked them to bring it up. Other tips include couching the question alongside other safety concerns, such as pools and food allergies.

The slogan and messaging is borrowed and in line with a national effort led by New York-based Northwell Health system.

Ideally, gun owners with children should have their firearms and ammunition stored in separate safes, said Scott Charles, trauma outreach manager at Temple University Hospital, which is also part of the coalition.

“What we tend to see is that kids are able to access firearms because they know exactly where those firearms are hidden, even when the parents think that they don’t,” added Charles, whose work centers on gun violence. “We can’t count on simply hiding guns under pillows or on shelves or between mattresses. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

So far in 2024, a boy was killed in Montana and three other children were injured in unintentional shootings nationwide, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control and safety.

That tally includes a 5-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself in the leg Jan. 8 in Harrowgate. There were five unintentional shootings involving children in Philadelphia last year, one of which was fatal, the Everytown data shows.

“As somebody who has, on too many occasions, had to console families whose children died as the result of an unintentional shooting, I can tell you that this is the kind of tragedy that people wish they could undo,” Charles said. “Unfortunately, when it comes to this situation, there are no do-overs.”

In recent years, firearm-related fatalities have become the No. 1 cause of death for children and teenagers in the United States, overtaking motor vehicle crashes, studies have indicated.

Just under 2,600 children under the age of 18 died from gun-related causes in 2021, a 50% increase compared to 2019, according to Pew Research Center. That number incorporates homicides, suicides and accidental shootings.

Homicides accounted for 60% of the total firearm deaths in 2021, the Pew research indicates. Locally, the City Controller’s gun violence dashboard shows that 17 children under the age of 18 were killed and 144 were wounded in shootings last year in Philadelphia.

The hospital coalition, which spans more than a dozen health systems in the city and suburbs, first came together in 2020 to promote coronavirus safety measures, such as mask wearing. More recently, the partnership was formalized under the Hospitals Together webpage.