As a pediatrician, I have cared for victims of gun violence and understand the devastating effects that gun violence has on individuals, families and communities. One such patient left a lasting impression.
I cared for a child who attempted suicide with a gunshot to their own head, using a firearm owned by a family member. The suicide attempt wasn’t immediately lethal but resulted in devastating injuries. They went from an active child to unable to talk, eat, or move. They spent months in the hospital, enduring countless surgeries, before passing away due to complications from their injury.
This story runs through my mind when I counsel patients on firearm safety. Suicide attempts using firearms result in death 85% of the time, accounting for half of all suicide deaths in the United States. Kids and teens are impulsive – 50% of gun suicide attempts occur within 20 minutes of deciding to do so. The vast majority use guns kept in their own homes (source: https://ohioaap.org/storeitsafe).
Gun violence is a public health crisis – one that is preventable. Firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death in children and adolescents in the United States, where 110 people die from gun violence every day (source: https://www.everytown.org/). Commonsense firearm safety policies are a long-overdue necessity in addressing this gun violence crisis. Eighty-three percent of gun owners support background checks on all firearm sales and 79% want to see their politicians act in favor of firearm safety (source: https://www.pewresearch.org).
However, our elected representatives have ignored their constituents’ needs and desires for too long. Antiquated political systems are failing at keeping our communities safe. The individual responsible for the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, purchased two assault rifles legally. Texas legislators drastically expanded gun rights about a year ago. Ohio is following suit – signing Permitless Carry into law within the past year. We need laws that prevent gun violence, not that enable it, and we need to normalize a culture of firearm safety.
The safest home for children is one without firearms. Studies have shown that even when the gun is hidden, kids know where to find it. Children are naturally curious, and a toddler is strong enough to accidentally pull the trigger. Unintentional shootings by kids occur nearly every day in the U.S. – resulting in 765 preventable deaths between 2015-2020 (source: https://www.everytown.org/).
Safe firearm storage has been shown to significantly reduce firearm injuries. Safe storage means all guns in the home are locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored separately. Examples of storage devices include lock boxes, gun safes, cable locks, and trigger locks (source: https://besmartforkids.org/). By following these principles and role modeling firearm safety, we can create a community where less kids are injured and killed by firearms.
On June 25, President Joe Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which seeks to expand background checks for gun buyers less than 21 years of age, enforce a 10-day waiting period for background check processing, and increase funding for mental health resources. This is an important first step in the firearm safety policies we need to protect our communities, however, the work is far from complete.
At the same time this bill was passed, the U.S. Supreme Court acted against critical gun safety laws in New York, setting a very dangerous precedent. Now is the time to keep the momentum rolling and to raise our voices in support of gun safety. Our policymakers need to be held accountable for their role in protecting our communities. Our kids are counting on us to keep them safe.
We need to normalize safe firearm storage. We need to demand commonsense firearm safety legislation. We need to vote for representatives who will tirelessly support this mission. We need to act, so that our children don’t have to live in fear, and so that they can live at all.
Elizabeth Ireson lives in Hyde Park and is a pediatrician and member of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: We need laws that prevent gun violence, not enable it