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

Author: Lauren Morea

As a pediatrician, I’ve unfortunately seen what a bullet can do to a child’s body. I have seen the long-term effects of long-term physical and mental health on a child who has seen or lost a loved one as a result of gun violence. I know these are experiences that a child should not endure, and I want to do everything I can to avoid them.

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

Mass shootings are happening every day in our country, but no action is being taken to prevent them. The senseless murders of 19 children and two teachers in Uvald (Texas) last month are utterly horrific. Nineteen children taken before life really began, many more children who will never forget the horror of that hour at school, 21 families who miss the sweet smiles on the faces of their loved ones and a divided community. This horrific tragedy has once again put the focus of the American gun violence epidemic.

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Mass shootings have caught the attention of the media, but the reality is that every year 1,800 children die as a result of homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. This is an average of five children a day. Armed violence is disproportionately affecting communities of color.

Deaths related to firearms have been on the rise for the past 10 years, and have risen even more in the last two years as a result of the pandemic. We are the only high-income country in the world with these gun-related injury and death rates. The rate of gun ownership and gun deaths in the U.S. is significantly higher than in other high-income countries.

As a pediatrician, I have dedicated my life to keeping my children healthy and safe. My medical decisions are based on scientific evidence. These advisory measures on car seats, safe sleeping for children, bicycle helmets, water safety and many other issues are backed by extensive life-saving research. The research also makes it clear that common-sense legislation is effective legislation to keep the lives of all children and Americans out of the hands of dangerous people.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified three legislative priorities that have been shown to reduce gunshot wounds and deaths in children.

Strengthen background checks.Unfortunately, people who are legally prohibited from owning a firearm can in many ways avoid a background check system, including on the Internet, at gun shows, and at gun sales among individuals. Updating federal law to require background checks on all firearms sales and most transfers would protect our children and communities by preventing people with the highest risk of gun violence from buying firearms.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders.These laws allow family members or law enforcement to go to court to demand the temporary removal of a weapon from a person at risk of harm to himself or others. This proactive approach has been shown to reduce suicides and homicides in states that have already established ERPOs.

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

The research is clear. These three measures will prevent the firearms and deaths of children and our communities.

It is essential to prevent dangerous people from acquiring weapons. A bad guy without a gun is the best thing for public safety.

Now is the time to come together and do our best to protect our children. We need to put the needs of our children first, and what our children need now is a definitive action to end the epidemic of gun violence.

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

Lauren Morea, DO practices medicine in North Virginia.

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