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

by Lauren Morea

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

Gun violence is an American epidemic. Deaths from firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers. 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 literally commonplace in our country, but no action is being taken to prevent them. The senseless killings of 19 children and two teachers in Uwalde, Texas, last month were absolutely heartbreaking. Nineteen children taken away before their lives really begin, many more children who will never forget the horror of that hour at school, 21 families who miss the sweet smiling faces of their loved ones, and a whole torn community. This horrific tragedy has once again focused the American epidemic of gun violence.

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Mass shootings are attracting media attention, but the reality is that there are 1,800 children each year who die as a result of gun killings, suicides and involuntary shootings. That’s an average of five children every day. Color communities are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

Deaths from children related to firearms have increased over the last 10 years, with the pandemic increasing even more in the last two years. We are the only high-income country in the world with this percentage of firearms injuries and deaths. The rates of both gun ownership 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 healthy and safe. My medical decisions are based on scientific evidence. The advice I provide to families on car seats, safe sleeping for babies, bicycle helmets, water safety and many other issues has been supported by extensive research showing that these measures are saving lives. Similarly, research shows that sound legislation to keep guns in 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 have been shown to reduce injuries and deaths from firearms to children.

Strengthen background checks.Unfortunately, people who are legally prohibited from owning firearms can circumvent the system of verifying the past in many ways, including selling weapons online, at arms shows, and between individuals. Updating federal law to require verification of the history of every firearm sale and most transfers would protect our children and communities by preventing firearms purchases from those most likely to commit gun violence.

Extreme risk protection orders.These laws allow family members or law enforcement officials to turn to a judge to request the temporary seizure of a firearm from a person who is at risk of injuring himself or others. This proactive approach has been shown to reduce suicides and homicides in countries that have already introduced ERPO.

Federal Survey on the Prevention of Violence with Weapons.Weapons violence is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed through a research-based, scientific approach. For 20 years, there was very little federal funding for research into gun violence. This has changed over the last three years, but continuous and increased funding is needed to quantify and describe the epidemic of gun violence and to identify prevention strategies.

The study is clear. These three measures will prevent injuries and deaths from firearms to children and our communities.

Preventing dangerous people from acquiring weapons is key. A bad man without a weapon is the best thing for public safety.

Now is the time to unite and do everything we can to protect our children. We need to put the needs of our children first, and what our children need now is the final action to end the epidemic of gun violence.

I call on Congress, the Virginia legislature and local authorities 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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