Last year at this time we were enjoying the holiday season unaware of the tragedy about to unfold in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. When it happened, it shook us to our core – 20 children along with 6 adults killed in a matter of minutes by a single gunman.
Even more disturbing is that, in 2012 alone, seven mass shootings took place in the US taking 151 lives. In 2013, there have been at least five mass shootings, injuring and killing more than 40. Each year, about 2,700 children (ages 0-19 years) die by gunshot and an additional 15,000 are injured. This is a horrifying reality for any nation, let alone one that takes great measures to protect its citizens on or off our own soil.
As one of the busiest pediatric trauma centers in the country, CHOP has treated more than 250 cases of gunshot injuries in the past 10 years. Each case records a young life forever changed and a family traumatized-- and these are the children who survived to be transported to CHOP.
In reaction to the emotion CHOP employees felt after Sandy Hook, our CEO, Steve M. Altschuler, MD, commented that, “We cannot let a sense of hopelessness overcome our ability to truly make a difference in an individual child’s life.” For this to stop, for children to stop being injured and killed by gunshot, bold action and change is imperative.
At Dr. Altschuler’s directive, CIRP@CHOP has been working hard to create the infrastructure to support bold initiatives at CHOP that ameliorates youth violence in Philadelphia and beyond. Underway is a comprehensive public health approach to this complex issue that addresses multiple aspects of violence: bullying, domestic violence, and physical assault. Our focus as a pediatric healthcare facility is on promoting a safe environment for our patients and families. We look forward to formally introducing the Violence Prevention Initiative early in 2014.
Our communities must require similarly bold efforts from state and federal policymakers, who are positioned to prevent future tragedies related to firearms. Michael L. Nance, MD, FACS, FAAP, Director of the Pediatric Trauma Program at CHOP, recently authored the Gun Violence Policy Statement for the American Pediatric Surgical Association that reflects empirical evidence, clinical expertise and plain common sense. Key among them:
- Consider gun violence a public health issue
- Improve the quality and availability of mental health services for children and adults
- Support a system of universal background checks for all firearm transactions to make it more difficult for criminals and mentally unstable individuals to obtain a gun
- Stop limiting federal funding of firearms-related research. We need reliable, unbiased information upon which to base public policy
- Limit access by children to firearms including the promotion and use of gunlocks and other safe gun storage techniques
- Allow physicians to speak to patients and families about firearms in homes with children, as they do with any other health risk
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of individuals to own and carry firearms. This is a freedom that cannot be taken lightly, or irresponsibly. We now need to develop and implement policies that focus on how to live in a nation with 300 million firearms, so that our children can enjoy the simple freedom of safe homes, schools and streets.