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Ideastream Public Media is bringing you stories about the surge in gun violence plaguing many Northeast Ohio neighborhoods. Gun violence is not new, but mass shootings and community violence have reached a fever pitch — destroying lives and tearing some communities apart. We're talking with residents, activists, victims and experts about prevention strategies and solutions.

Risk for gun-related injuries increases around the winter holidays. Here's how to stay safe

University Hospitals distributed gun locks to hospital staff at a Dec. 11 event.
Stephen Langel
Ideastream Public Media
University Hospitals distributed gun locks to hospital staff at a Dec. 11 event.

Dr. Ann Mary Bacevice, co-director of the UH Rainbow Pediatric Trauma Center at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, said the public needs to take steps to securely store their weapons during the holidays as there is a greater risk of gun-related violence and injury.

These risks can be due to a number of factors, including seasonal depression-related self-harm, she said.

“We all know the holidays are very tough for some people who are having mental health issues," she said. "And we do know that mental health and access to firearms can be deadly.”

The holidays also present an increased chance of accidental gun-related injuries during holidays as children visit people’s homes, Bacevice said.

“Children are curious," she added. "The adults are busy and distracted and kids can find and get into firearms in the middle of a holiday get-together.”

An analysis by The Associated Press found unintentional shootings spike in the U.S. during the holidays, and are more likely to occur than any other time of the year.

Bacevice recommended individuals purchase gun locks and other means of safely storing weapons, including lock boxes and safes, to prevent such harm from taking place. UH currently provides these locks to emergency department patients and their families. This includes families of the gunshot victims who participate in UH's Antifragility program, a pediatric hospital-based violence intervention program serving youths and families in the greater Cleveland area.

"We need to make sure that our families and our community are safe," Bacevice said. "A trigger lock is something that's inexpensive, that's easy to put on. And if we can keep one child or one adult from being shot during this holiday season, that's what we want to do."

Bacevice added safely storing a gun separately from ammunition is another way to prevent harm.

"If you have children in the house, everything should be locked up so children can't get it," she said.

According to Store It Safe, a gun safety group aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics, safe storage, from gun locks to gun lock boxes to firearm safes, are essential to prevent not only accidental discharges, but intentional harm, including suicide attempts. For example, unsupervised youth firearm access triples the risk of death by suicide, the group said.

Should gun violence take place, the first minutes are crucial as victims wait for paramedics to arrive, Bacevice said. That is why she and other hospital personnel have provided free Stop the Bleed training to staff, Case Western Reserve University staff and the public at health fairs, community fairs and other gatherings since 2016.

Stop the Bleed is a program that teaches the public ways to limit blood loss in an emergency. This training teaches individuals about the multiple ways to control bleeding, including applying direct pressure, packing the wound with bleeding control gauze and applying a tourniquet.

Such knowledge can be the difference between life and death, Bacevice said.

"We know that massive hemorrhage is a very fast cause of death," she said. "And in a situation where you have multiple people injured, your resources for paramedics and (emergency medical services) are limited. You want your first responders to be able to know what they're doing and to be able to help and save a life."

Time is of the essence, Bacevice said.

"In trauma, we talk about the golden hour, which is the moment of the injury and that first hour that involves your first responders, your EMTs and paramedics getting to the emergency department," she said. "That golden hour is key in saving so many lives of trauma patients, including our loved ones who are wounded by firearms."

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.