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Sheela Raja, PhD Headshot

This Is Our Parenting Moment: Sensible Limits on Guns

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When it comes to public health and safety policy, big changes are never easy. New ideas are often met with resistance and suspicion. But sometimes in history, there are watershed moments that push us forward and remind us of our connection and obligations to one another. Those moments are often characterized by two things: 1) we are confronted with facts, and 2) we are haunted by individual children's struggles and stories. Facts alone are almost never enough to move us. We tend to need the additional understanding of how real people, real families are affected. Shifting the public consciousness on gun violence, and how to stop it, means we must be at that magic instant where people understand the issue with both their minds and their hearts. After the mass murder of 20 children in Newtown, Conn., countless mothers in America are at that watershed moment. Right now.

In recent decades, public health and safety legislation is full of examples of children who deeply touched us and became household names -- the perfect storm where statistics and a human face came together to push us toward change. For example, in the early 1980s, nightly newscasters reported on thousands of Americans who were dying of AIDS and the staggering new number of cases every year. Then we heard about 13-year-old Ryan White, the HIV-positive Indiana boy who was denied the right to go to school. And suddenly, the stories of death and stigma didn't seem so remote. We began to see HIV as a disability that required legal protection from discrimination.

Another example is six-year-old Adam Walsh, who was brutally kidnapped and murdered in 1981. In response to his death, we eventually established a National Sex Offender Registry.

And then there was nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted in 1996. After her murder, authorities were empowered to begin using the Emergency Alert System to quickly notify the public to look for any sign of a missing child. Statistics and individual stories -- this is how we've taken action to change things for the better. Because Ryan, Adam and Amber could have been our children.

We've been hearing stories of gun violence all our lives. But those incidents have been increasing at an alarming pace, everyday, all over America. In all communities, in cities,suburbs and rural America we now have a critical mass of statistics and stories. Mothers and fathers can no longer deny this affects every one of us. More than three thousand American children are killed by guns every year, and more than 17,000 are wounded. Of the 23 wealthiest countries in the world, 87 percent of children who are killed from firearms are American children. Our children.

Sensible restrictions like universal background checks, limiting magazine capacity, requiring reporting of stolen firearms and mandating safety training won't save every child every time. Ryan White funding doesn't ensure that every child living with HIV gets care in time. The National Sex Offender Registry doesn't spare every child from the horrors of sexual abuse. The Amber Alert system doesn't result in the safe return of every abducted child. But these protections have significantly improved the health and well-being of our children.

Mothers all over this country have felt that sick pit in our stomachs hearing another news story of gun violence, and we have shed tears for the victims and their survivors. But now we have been moved to action. We are doing this for the 3,000 American children killed by gun violence last year alone -- for those 3,000 mourning mothers, each with a story of immeasurable loss, grief and pain. As moms, we all know that when it is our child who lives or dies, statistics don't matter.