According to the National Safety Council, there were 1,600 accidental firearm deaths in 1989. Research indicates that the two largest categories of accidental firearm injuries are hunting injuries and injuries to children or adolescents playing with firearms in their homes. Those in low-income groups have the highest accidental firearm death rates. Rates are also high in rural areas.

In California, the risk of being involved in an accidental firearm death as either a shooter or victim peaks in the 10- to 14-year-old age group. Research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests children involved as the shooters in accidental shootings "are almost certainly at risk for acute and chronic emotional and behavioral disturbances."

A study in Texas found more than half of the families who kept guns at home kept them loaded at all times. Half of these loaded guns were not kept locked away from children. In fact, 10 percent of those studied reported that their guns were loaded, not locked up and within reach of children.

More needs to be known about the effects of firearm safety courses and other educational interventions designed to promote the safest possible handling of firearms.

First aid

Because gunshot wounds are so serious, it is important that prompt and good first aid be performed.

- Check and monitor the airway, breathing and pulse (ABCs).

- Control any bleeding by covering wounds with sterile dressings and apply pressure with your hand or a bandage.

- Treat for shock:

1. Maintain the victim's body temperature.

2. Elevate the legs 8 to 12 inches.

3. If breathing difficulties arise, place the victim in a semisitting position.

- Call the emergency medical services (EMS) system or, if it's faster, transport victim to the hospital.

- Report all gunshot wounds to a law enforcement agency - this includes accidents, suicides and homicides.