Pediatricians urged to promote gun safety legislation, protect kids
CHICAGO — Although the AAP has been on the frontline of defending children against legislation that would promote unsafe gun use and storage, more work is needed in the promotion of access to mental health care, universal background checks, safe storage requirements and safe gun technology, according to a recent presentation held at the AAP 2017 National Conference & Exhibition.
This call to action from J. Gary Wheeler, MD, MPS, FAAP, associate professor at the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, comes because of previous defensive acts spurred by the AAP against Florida’s Privacy of Firearm Owners Act, which prohibited physicians and other health care providers from counseling families on firearm use and storage.
According to a statement by the AAP, breaking this law could result in a range of ramifications that included disciplinary action from the Florida Board of Medicine. This law was repealed with a 10-1 vote in February 2017.
“Because Florida chose not to take this to the Supreme Court, we are unlikely to see any further challenges, and for the moment, it appears that we are over and done trying to prevent these types of laws,” Wheeler said in his presentation. “We have won this battle. This victory in Florida is the biggest and most recent measure of progress, but it was in fact a defensive battle. It is now time for us to go on the offense.”
According to research cited by Wheeler and conducted by Katherine A. Fowler, PhD, 53% of pediatric firearm deaths are due to homicide, and 38% are suicides — a statistic that has increased 60% since 2007. The use of firearms in suicide play a significant role, with 83.7% of attempts ending in fatality. However, pediatric homicide and suicide rates vary by state, with Hawaii having the lowest rates of both events.
Additionally, Wheeler referenced the prevalence of gun ownership in America and the dangers of having unsecured firearms in the home.
“Those of you who take care of children know that they have the ability to discharge firearms and that they are curious,” he said. “We also know that older kids are impulsive. Concerning suicide, we know that firearms are a very effective way to complete the act, and we know guns in the home provide an opportunity for kids.”
Current AAP policy suggests that homes are safest when they are free of guns and that counseling families on the risks of ownership and safe storage can be beneficial to child safety. The organization also supports the regulation of firearms to protect children, as well as additional funding for research regarding the pediatric implications of firearm use and ownership.
“The AAP has faced great battles in the past, and we have won,” Wheeler said in his presentation. “Our members have defeated measles, Haemophilus influenzae meningitis, dramatically reduced group B strep infection, and we have gone state to state to make sure seat belts and booster seats are a standard, which saves thousands of lives annually. But we need every single person to help achieve [firearm safety] through a shared and sustained voice.” –by Katherine Bortz
Wheeler JG. P2083.Gun safety: An American crisis. Presented at: 2017 AAP National Conference & Exhibition; Sept. 16-19; Chicago.
Disclosure: Wheeler reports no financial disclosures.