COMMENT: Gun violence is a public health crisis; there are solutions | Opinion

by Lauren Morea

As a pediatrician, I have sadly seen what a bullet can do to a child’s body. I have seen the long-term effects on physical and mental health on a child who has cared for or lost a loved one to gun violence. I know these are experiences that no child should endure and I want to do everything possible to prevent them.

Gun violence is an American epidemic. Gun death is now the leading cause of death for American children and adolescents. Almost all of these deaths are preventable. As adults, our job is to keep our children safe and right now, as a country, we are failing.

Mass shootings are now literally a daily occurrence in our country, but no action is being taken to prevent them. The senseless killings of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas last month are absolutely heartbreaking. Nineteen children taken before their life even began, many more children who will never forget the terror of that time at school, 21 families who miss the sweet smiling faces of their loved ones and an entire community torn apart. This horrific tragedy has once again brought America’s epidemic of gun violence into focus.

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The mass shootings attract media attention, but the reality is that there are 1,800 children who die from unintentional killings, suicides and shootings every year. That’s an average of five children every day. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

Gun-related deaths for children have increased over the past 10 years, with an even stronger increase in the past two years due to the pandemic. We are the only high-income country in the world with these gun-related injury and death rates. The rates of both gun possession and gun deaths in the United States are significantly higher than in other high-income countries.

As a pediatrician, I have dedicated my life to keeping children safe and healthy. My medical decisions are based on scientific evidence. The advice I provide to families on car seats, safe children’s sleep, bicycle helmets, water safety and many other issues is supported by extensive research showing that these measures save lives. Likewise, the research is clear that common sense legislation to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals is effective in saving the lives of children and all Americans.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified three legislative priorities that evidence shows reduce gunshot injuries and death for children.

Strengthened background checks.Unfortunately, people who are legally prohibited from owning a firearm can circumvent the background check system in many ways, including gun sales on the internet, at gun shows, and between individuals. Updating the federal law to require a background check on every firearm sale and most transfers would protect our children and communities by preventing the purchase of firearms by individuals who are more likely to perpetrating armed violence.

Extreme risk protection orders.These laws allow family members or law enforcement agencies to go to a judge to request the temporary removal of firearms from a person who could harm themselves or others. This proactive approach has been shown to reduce suicides and homicides in states that have already enacted ERPO.

Federal research on the prevention of gun violence.Gun violence is a public health crisis that must be resolved with a research-based scientific approach. For 20 years, there has been very little federal funding for gun violence research. The situation has changed over the past three years, but there is a need to continue and increase funding to quantify and describe the outbreak of gun violence and to identify prevention strategies.

The research is clear. These three measures will prevent gunshot wounds and death for children and our communities.

Preventing dangerous people from obtaining weapons is essential. A gunless villain is best for public safety.

The time has come to come together and do everything possible to protect our children. We must put our children’s needs first and what our children need now is definitive action to end the epidemic of gun violence.

I urge Congress, the Virginia legislature, and local governments to stand on the right side of history and do what is right for our children and our country.

Lauren Morea, DO practices medicine in Northern Virginia.

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