Since the national call to action after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly a year ago, the toll of gun violence on our children has continued unabated. Every day, about 7 children are killed in the U.S. by firearms, including hundreds since the massacre Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.
But what has changed -- and what gives pediatricians hope of one day reducing this statistic to zero -- is the growing number of advocates working to prevent gun violence. Since Newtown, parents, elected leaders and doctors have made their voices heard with renewed momentum, resulting in important legislation in six states to protect children from injuries from firearms. But more work is needed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents, pediatricians, educators and others to join the increasing numbers of advocates for effective measures to protect children in our homes, schools and communities. In a video released today, AAP President Thomas K. McInerny, MD, FAAP, urges the public to engage in their communities to push for change.
"Every child who dies due to gun violence is someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister. It is a tragedy that is repeated over and over again," Dr. McInerny said. "The tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook school in Newtown woke up the nation and invigorated us to continue to address that issue even more strongly. Pediatricians remain undeterred in their efforts to protect children from gun violence and we will continue to work hard on this until we make progress. We urge you to join us."
- Stronger gun laws, including an effective assault weapons ban, mandatory background checks on all firearm purchases, and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
- Research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.
- Strengthening the quality of mental health care and access to services for children.
- The AAP urged Congress to take action in a letter sent to senators and representatives today.
Protect Children in Their Homes
Firearm-related injuries are the second-leading cause of death among youth in the United States. Parents can take immediate steps to reduce the risk of gun violence in their children's lives, said Denise Dowd, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, and a lead author of the AAP policy statement on firearm-related injuries.
Children are naturally curious; research shows children who find a gun are likely to play with it, even if they have been taught not to. Adolescents can be impulsive, and research shows teens who have access to a firearm are at higher risk of suicide, even without a mental health diagnosis. The AAP recommends storing all firearms unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked away separately.
"Pediatricians routinely ask about the presence of guns in the home during well-child visits, in order to counsel families about how safe storage measures should match a child's developmental stage," said Dr. Dowd. "Parents also need to ask these questions before their child visits a friend's house. This should be as routine as talking about food allergies and bicycle helmets."
The AAP reminds parents that graphic media coverage of shootings and other violent events, including media coverage of the Newtown shooting, may be upsetting to young children. Parents should consider their children’s emotional and developmental level before allowing them to watch news coverage, and be mindful about leaving the television on while children are present. See After Newtown: A Pediatrician-Mom’s Response.
Reinvigorate Gun Safety Advocacy
Preventing gun violence is a complex problem, Dr. Dowd said, and it will require a complex solution including strong state and federal policies, access to mental health services, safe storage of firearms in homes, and a reduction of children’s exposure to violence in the media and in their homes, schools and communities.
As the Newtown anniversary approaches, the AAP encourages everyone to engage with their community, lawmakers, doctors and educators to protect children from the daily presence of gun violence in their lives.
“This should not be a political issue. Gun violence is a public health issue that profoundly affects children and their families,” said Dr. McInerny. “We know what works – strong laws to enforce background checks and safe storage. But our elected leaders need to find a way forward to protect our children.”