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Protecting Our Pediatric Patients from Gun Violence

June 13, 2019

Firearm-related fatalities are the third leading cause of death among children in the U.S., taking about 1,300 young lives annually. Several thousand children are injured by firearms yearly, and as many as 4 percent of children have witnessed a shooting in the past year causing immeasurable psychological trauma.

But what can we, as pediatricians, do to protect children from gun violence?

We can give very specific guidance to parents on how to safely store guns (if owned) and how to talk to their children about firearms. We can advocate for policies that have a track record for decreasing gun violence. This is an issue “in our wheelhouse” that we are equipped, and obligated, to address.

As pediatricians, we are in a unique position to rise above the partisan debate and advocate for children in the office, in our communities, and in our capitol.

Guidelines for Safe Firearm Storage

A 2018 study from the Journal of Urban Health found that 4.6 million U.S. youth live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. Safe gun storage prevents accidental injuries and suicides. States with laws that require handguns to be locked have 68 percent fewer firearm suicides per capita than states without such laws, even after controlling for confounding variables. Share with parents and caregivers:

  • Hiding a gun in a drawer or closet is not safe storage
  • Firearms should be stored in a locked cabinet, gun vault or safe and/or secured with a gun-locking device (e.g.cable lock).
  • Ammunition should be stored and locked separate from firearm

Messaging for Children

  • Ask children to problem-solve at well check appointments: What would you do if you were playing at a friend’s house and found a gun? What if it looked like a toy?
  • The message you can share with children is: Stop. Do NOT touch the gun. Don’t let anyone else touch it. Even if the gun looks like a toy, don’t touch it because some real guns may look like toys. Go tell an adult.

Legislative Advocacy

Reducing firearm violence is one of MNAAP’s legislative priorities. The chapter advocates for policies that can protect children, including:

  • Background checks universally applied to all gun sales
  • Laws requiring waiting periods that create an important window for gun purchasers to reconsider their intentions and prevent impulsive acts of violence, particularly suicide
  • Minimum age for purchasing a firearm should be 21 years old
  • Safe storage laws can mandate safety requirements such as a locked container or gun lock

Additionally, since the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, banning assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines is an important area of policy to prevent mass shootings.

 

About the Author

Nadia Maccabee-Ryaboy, MD, FAAP, is a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s Minnesota. She serves on MNAAP’s child safety workgroup.

 

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