Marjorie Sanfilippo, Ph.D
Newscaster Diane Sawyer has been busy on the talk show circuit, including an appearance on The View
today to promote "Young Guns: A Diane Sawyer Special," which airs at 10 p.m. tonight. She says she revisited a show to
pic about children’s behaviors around firearms she broadcast post-Columbine.
Since then there have been 61 more school shootings. Recently, 20/20
producers asked Marjorie Sanfilippo, Ph.D, a child psychologist who is Associate Dean of Faculty and Professor of Psychology at Eckerd College, to show a new generation of adult viewers what happens when children have access to firearms. Hidden-camera footage is used extensively to capture children’s behaviors when they discover firearms in backpacks at school and in their homes.
In the original 20/20 episode on the topic in 1999, Sanfilippo’s own son Matthew (now age 19 and an Eckerd College sophomore) was among the children who took part in the experiment. At the time, she was surprised by her son’s behavior with the gun and the lies he told about it — a common behavior for all children in the same situation.
Sanfilippo published the results of three studies in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics between 1996 and 2003. Her first study showed there was no difference in gun play after children ages 4-6 were exposed to a gun safety education program. In that group of children, those who had access to parents’ firearms were more likely to play with the guns, and 8 percent admitted to having played or touched their parents’ guns without permission. In the second study of children ages 4-7, 72 percent of those who were exposed to a week-long gun safety education program played with guns, versus 45 of children who were not in the gun safety education program. And in the third study, when told not to play with a gun but then given access to it, 23 percent of children ages 9-15 in the study group played with the gun, and most of them lied about it when asked.
“Put simply, don’t count on children to resist the allure of a gun,” she said.
Sanfilippo has worked with the National Academy of Sciences to research educational approaches to reducing firearm injuries and death and has received funding from the Packard Foundation.
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