A few weeks ago, I joined more than 300 pediatricians on Capitol Hill to raise our voices in the name of children. We shared anecdotes of how children we knew had been harmed by guns and we explained why gun violence prevention is a public health issue. We met with our senators and representatives to ask for $50 million in funding for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for research on gun violence prevention.
Our voices were heard, or at least for the time being. Just this week, the House Appropriations Committee advanced a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2020 bill which includes $50 million for the CDC and National Institutes of Health to study gun violence.
Many seem surprised when pediatricians talk about gun violence as a public health issue. As pediatricians, we strive to promote the health and well-being of children. It is through our research and advocacy that lives have been saved, such as with the Back to Sleep campaign, which promoted that babies sleep on their backs and on a bare, flat surface to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
It is only logical to want information about a problem that injures or kills 83 children and adolescents every day. Yet a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed there is significantly more research done on peptic ulcers and hernias than on gun violence, even though the number of people who die from gun violence is more than 10 times higher.
When our group of North Carolina pediatricians met with staffs of Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, we shared our patients’ stories. One colleague spoke about a patient of hers, a young boy in Asheville who was walking home with his mother when they were shot by her ex-boyfriend. He was a convicted felon. The mother did not survive. The boy did, but required multiple surgeries to save his life.
Another physician told the story of her own daughter, whose elementary school had to be locked down because there was an active shooter in their area. Months later, she overheard her daughter and her friends talking about the episode at a sleepover. Instead of the usual tween banter, she heard them talk about how scared they had been as they lay on the floor of the school during the event.
Just weeks ago, we woke up to the news of a shooting at the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus that killed two and could have been much worse if not for the quick actions of several people, including one of the victims.
What are the best ways to prevent these tragedies before they occur? What are the effects of stress due to lockdowns on child development and well-being? These and many more questions could be addressed by our nation’s premier research institutions, but only if Congress provides funding.
We need to learn more about how to prevent gun violence. We need a rigorous scientific approach informed by research that can keep children safe and promote their lifelong health and well-being. I applaud the U.S. House for making these critical investments, and call on Sens. Burr and Tillis to build on the important step taken in the House and support $50 million in funding for gun violence prevention in the Senate appropriations bill. And I urge you to call our legislators’ offices and let them know you also support funding that will help protect our children’s lives.
Dr. Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke Children’s Hospital. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.