It was the end of the working day when news from Uvalde started flashing on our phones. Like pediatricians across the country, my eyes filled with tears. They were tears not just of sadness for these little children, not just of horror of the terror they felt and not just of anguish for their families. They were also tears of disillusionment, tears of disbelief, tears of anger and tears of betrayal.
As pediatricians we dedicate our lives to keeping children safe and sound. We use evidence-based medicine (research and data) to guide us as we counsel families, as we treat and prevent disease and disease, and as we reduce the harm from preventable causes. We do this every single day. We provide instructions on car seat safety, building gates around swimming pools and how to place babies on their backs when they sleep, because evidence has shown that these measures can prevent injury and death in infants and children. Why isn’t it common sense to do something research-proven to protect their lives?
Let’s talk about common sense gun safety legislation. Think about those words. Common sense. Laws that would employ background checks, require safe weapons storage, and use extreme hazard protection orders would save the lives of children. Research proves this. So why don’t we treat gunshot wounds and death with the same urgency as other pressing public health problems? Isn’t it sensible to employ these measures, to make them legal, if they will save the lives of children? Who could ever oppose laws that will literally save children’s lives? Yet here we are. Gunshot wounds are now the leading cause of death for our nation’s children. Now more children are dying from guns than anything else in this country. No other country in the developed world carries such a horrible distinction. Worse still, we know these deaths are preventable.
This is why pediatricians across the country cried bitter tears after Uvalde, because right now we are experiencing collective pain.
In the nearly twenty years since Sandy Hook, and in the four years since Parkland, no nationwide action has been taken to protect our children from gun violence. It feels like a slap in the face against everything we do, everything we care about as pediatricians. It is almost inconceivable to us that anyone, particularly the legislators with the power to do so, would not want to do everything possible to prevent the senseless injury and death of children.
And we know, we all know, it’s not just about these mass shootings. On average, twelve children and adolescents die from gunshot wounds every single day in this country and that number has increased exponentially in recent years with 4,357 pediatric deaths in 2020; deaths from gun violence, accidents and suicide. Thousands of more children are injured every year. Just last month my colleagues in pediatric emergency medicine here on Long Island described a boy who accidentally shot his friend’s friend in the jaw with a relative’s gun. Another 15-year-old was shot in her neck, leaving her permanently paralyzed. We are also too familiar with the emotional trauma that gun violence has on every person, every family and every community that has been affected.
The fact of feeling bitter and disillusioned is that it simply does not feel well and, more importantly, it does not help protect the children. So we pediatricians and all of us have to take that collective pain we are all experiencing, the anger and frustration we all feel and we have to keep fighting for what we know is right, what we know is right and what we know is common sense for who has the well-being of children at heart. We must treat gun violence as the public health emergency that it is. We must be the voices for our children.
Eve Meltzer Krief, MD
Co-chair of legislative advocacy
Long Island Chapter, Queens, Brooklyn
American Academy of Pediatrics
Image of Dr. Ben Hoffman. Each bus holds 72 children. Each year 162 buses worth children are injured or killed by firearms