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Two Pediatricians Speak Out: We Need Effective Interventions to Protect Our Children

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"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said Wayne LaPierre of the NRA in their first public comments since the horrific Newtown shootings that took the lives of twenty first-graders.

We need to learn more about ways we can stop people from hurting our children with guns. We'd know more if handcuffs hadn't been put on research on gun control--we were stunned to read the article in JAMA by Drs. Kellermann and Rivara about the ways our government has suppressed funding for public health research that could prevent tragedies like Newtown. Since 1996, "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." In 2011, this was extended to all Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health. Really?

Guns are a public health problem, plain and simple. As pediatricians, this is patently obvious to us--which is why we could not understand why the state of Florida wanted to ban pediatricians from even talking about firearm safety in the exam room. Guns don't break arms, they break lives. Why wouldn't we talk about simple safety measures that could prevent our patients from dying?

That's the thing: injury prevention measures work. As Kellermann and Rivara point out:

Injury prevention research can have real and lasting effects. Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying in motor vehicle crashes has decreased by 31%. Deaths from fires and drowning have been reduced even more, by 38% and 52%, respectively. This progress was achieved without banning automobiles, swimming pools, or matches. Instead, it came from translating research findings into effective interventions.

Both of us have a child the same age as the children who were killed in Newtown. The days since the shootings have been really hard; we can put ourselves in the place of those parents so easily, and we have been depressed and haunted. But we don't want armed guards in our children's schools like the NRA is suggesting. More guns to fight guns?

Effective interventions are what we need. Eight children and youth die every day from guns. Forty-seven are injured. And the presence of a gun in the house increases the risk of lethal suicide. These things don't happen in places where you'd put an armed guard.

As pediatricians, we've had had the privilege of caring for children this week in clinic and offering support and guidance through our work writing and talking with the media. It's felt good to be able to do something. It has helped us see that the antidote to anxiety and fear is action.

As Heather Borden Herve, a Newtown mother whose daughter was born the same day as one of the children killed, wrote in a powerful post: "Einstein's definition of 'insanity' is doing something over and over and expecting different results. Expecting things to change by doing nothing over and over again, when it comes to guns, is insanity too."

It's time for all of us to take action.

Here's what we can do:

The safest home for children is one without guns. But if guns are in the home, the risk of death is significantly less when guns are stored unloaded in a locked container. Ammunition should be locked in a separate location. This needs to happen in every home in America. Now.

We have to work for a balanced "media-diet." Extensive research finds that exposure to violent games and media contributes to aggressive behavior, nightmares, fear of being harmed, and desensitization of violence. The effects are real.

Instead of putting limits on research about guns and violence, we need more of it. Much more of it. Congress must rescind its moratorium on firearm injury prevention research.

We need to advocate for sensible gun control laws that protect victims, not gun owners.

Most of all: we need to speak out. We need to be heard--whether it's in blogs or letters to the editor or letters or calls to elected officials, or in our donations to places like Mercy Corps, or in whatever other ways we find to express our outrage and protect our children.

Our pledge is to keep talking to families and to the media about sensible ways to protect our children from violence. Tell us what you will do.