HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – Leaders with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said firearms are the leading cause of death in children and teenagers in the United States. The rate is up by 40%, according to the Mississippi Chapter of Pediatrics.

“It’s a terrifying number. A 40% jump since 2019 to present 40% and higher, that’s a terrifying number. I mean, what’s going to happen in the future? Is it going to continue to go up?” questioned Dr. Duncan Donald, the Head of Trauma at Forrest General Hospital.

Authorities said people need to focus on safe gun storage. 

“Just make sure that it’s locked up. You’re responsible, and from an early age, teach your kids. If they see a gun, find a gun, don’t touch it. Tell a grown up. Tell your mom or dad. Tell an adult, but by all means, please don’t touch. The early you engrain that in them, the longer it’s going to stick with them,” said Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel.

Doctors said homes with children who suffer with mental health could be even more dangerous.

“Homes that have guns are four times more likely to have a child that commits suicide, so guns and suicide are correlated. So if you have children in your home who are suffering from depression or anxiety or any sort of mental health issues, you really need to be careful about where that gun is and make sure it is locked and safely stored,” said Anita Henderson, MD, president of the Mississippi Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

Doctors said in addition to getting a gun safe, adults should make sure kids don’t get the combination to the safe.