May 26, 2021 (St. Paul, MN) – Minnesota children and youth are in the midst of an emergency situation as firearm violence continues to claim young lives and create life-long trauma. Five months into 2021, already 20 children in Minneapolis have been the victims of gun violence, including five in the last month. These heart-breaking incidents reinforce that something must be done to prevent more young lives from being taken.
The Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MNAAP), which represents more than 1,000 pediatricians, residents, and medical students across the state, supports legislative measures which aim to reduce gun violence through background checks, “red flag laws,” prohibitions on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons, and safe storage of firearms. We are committed to protecting and advancing the health of every child and adolescent in Minnesota.
Firearm-related violence is currently the second leading cause of death in children and youth in the U.S. behind motor vehicle crashes, and it is a cause of death that can be prevented. In 2020 at least 14 children were killed by gun violence in Minneapolis, and another 100 under the age of 20 were shot. According to Gun Violence Archive, more than 575 children and youth younger than 18 years old have been killed in the U.S. to date in 2021.
The Joyce Foundation reports that a recent Minnesota survey found that 61 percent of respondents believed that gun laws should be stronger, but 25 percent don’t believe stronger gun laws will make a difference. However, a study published in Pediatrics in 2019 showed that states with stricter gun laws, including requiring universal background checks for firearm purchases, had lower firearm-related pediatric deaths. Additional laws requiring background checks for ammunition purchases have also been found to be helpful. Another study showed that policy changes mandating better child access prevention with penalties for the gun owner could also lead to lower pediatric mortality. Other laws such as waiting periods between when someone can apply for a gun and actually get it as well as extreme risk laws (e.g., red flag laws) that allow a loved one to have a gun removed from the home of someone in crisis, can also reduce overall suicides and homicides in the population.
African American children bear a disproportionate brunt of firearm-related deaths from unintentional injuries, homicide, and police-related shootings. The reasons for this are complex and myriad but are rooted in poverty and systemic racism. These limit the opportunities for children to grow up in healthy, violence-free environments. Addressing these conditions is essential to decrease our children’s exposure to violence. Collaboration between different groups including pediatricians, public health experts, legislators, law enforcement, youth services, schools, churches, and neighborhood groups will be necessary. The environmental and systematic racism that have led to the significant disparities in firearm-related deaths and injuries in our communities require a true financial commitment from local, state, and federal governments. Strengthening household financial security, including tax credits for families with children, safe and affordable housing, paid parental leave, livable wages, and economic support for developmentally appropriate childcare, will go a long way in reducing poverty in our communities. Investments through the provision of green spaces, playgrounds, and after-school programs are also important.
Death and injury by firearms are a public health crisis, especially for our youth. It is time for action. Our state leaders need to stand up, say “enough,” and pass common-sense gun violence prevention laws to protect our kids and save lives. Our communities must come together to address the social disparities that contribute to this ongoing crisis. We must respond to this emergency for our children and teens.