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For Doctors in America, 'Do No Harm' Should Mean Talking About Child Gun Safety

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Earlier this month, the New York Times ran an editorial about a recent study on gun violence and children published by Everytown, aka Moms, aka Bloomberg, Like a similar study published this year on mass shootings, the major sources were media reports about unintentional gun deaths of children which, according to this report, is substantially higher than the numbers furnished by the CDC.

The issuance of the report, according to a letter to the Times, coincided with the annual ASK day, which is a collaboration between Brady and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to encourage safe gun storage in homes with young children. The ASK campaign has been around for more than ten years and, according to its website has "inspired more than 19 million households" to keep guns away from where children play. Unfortunately, if the numbers of unintentional child deaths from shootings can be believed, the ASK campaign has a long way to go.

I don't doubt Brady's claim about reaching 19 million households, although I'm not sure how many of these households either contain guns or keep them around unlocked. My impression is that very few gun owners are willing to listen to what Brady or Bloomberg has to say, just as there can't be more than a handful of non-gun owners who are members of the NRA. When all is said and done, this is the real problem in the debate about guns, namely, that the flagship advocacy organizations speak only to their like-minded constituencies, there's no real communication between adherents on the two sides.

According to the Newtown report, there are 21 states that have no child access prevention (CAP) laws at all. What this means is that if a kid (or an adult, for that matter) picks up a gun and bangs away, the gun's owner doesn't face charges even if someone is injured or killed. Many of these states are out West, where gun controls have been traditionally lax, but while these states don't suffer much in the way of unintentional shootings, they do experience higher-than-average gun suicide rates, which might also be mitigated if guns had to be locked up. On the other hand, Eastern states like Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina all had multiple juvenile deaths from gun accidents, and none of these three states have any CAP laws that might have helped prevent access to guns.

I'll leave it to Brady to figure out how to mobilize even a portion of those 19 million ASK households to help drive their agenda forward; my primary concern is to look at the role that pediatricians should play in diminishing the health risks of unlocked guns. Jim Perrin, a co-signer of the New York Times letter and president of the AAP, believes that unlocked guns present the same kind of health risk to children as lead or unattended backyard pools. And he makes the point that just telling children about the risk of guns isn't enough; kids are naturally curious and in this case curiosity could do a lot more than kill the cat. After all, many pediatricians ask parents whether they lock children into a car seat before going for a ride. How much longer does it take to add the word "gun" to a question about locks?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to add a minute's extra work or responsibility to everything that medical professionals are now required to do in the brief time they spend with patients each day. But the physician's task is to lessen risk, and no matter what nonsense Rand Paul and the NRA promote about how doctors are a threat to the 2nd Amendment, anyone who believes that an unlocked gun in a home with children isn't a health risk is presenting a degree of stupidity that no amount of medical care will ever cure.