Research In Action

Research In Action

Remembering Sandy Hook, 10 Years Later
December 14, 2022

Ten years ago today, one of the most horrific tragedies in our nation’s history occurred when twenty 6- and- 7-year-old children and six educators were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since that day in 2012, we as a collective public health and pediatric health community have felt sadness and anger, but we have also mobilized to move the needle on gun violence prevention. With gun injuries now the leading cause of death among U.S. children and teens ages 1-19, and many more children and young adults suffering from non-fatal gun injuries or exposure to gun violence, this work is paramount to overall child health and well-being and fits squarely in the wheelhouse of our pediatric institution.

Organizations such as Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement that is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, were created in direct response to the Sandy Hook shooting. Today, Moms Demand Action has a chapter in every US state and a network of nearly 10 million volunteers. Similarly, following that tragedy in Connecticut, our Center for Violence Prevention (CVP) at CHOP was formed as an evidence-based, hospital-wide effort to reduce exposure to and impact of violence on children and their families. CVP’s programming, often conducted in partnership with community-based organizations, in areas including gun safety, bullying prevention in schools, and intimate partner violence prevention, help address a significant need in ensuring the current and future health of children. Many other academic centers and community organizations around Philadelphia are addressing the root causes of gun violence, including the newly formed Civic Coalition to Save Lives. We are proud to collaborate with them with a singular purpose in mind: to allow Philadelphia’s children and families to be safe in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods.

The horrible incident at Sandy Hook also reminds us that the impact of violence is far-reaching; parents, siblings, and friends often suffer lingering effects. Our roles as healers and helpers offer us the privilege of extending our support to children and families who experience grief, loss, and trauma. We value our relationships with organizations such as Uplift, Mothers in Charge, and EMIR Healing Center as part of the web of community-based victim service agencies who work with these families.

From a policy perspective, action from local, state, and federal policymakers is critical to curbing gun violence and protecting children. While progress has been slow, there is reason to be hopeful; in 2019, Congress specifically allocated funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for firearm research, which can help inform policy decisions, for the first time in more than 20 years. Policy priorities that can protect children from gun violence include:

  • Child Access Prevention (CAP) Laws. We know that states with the strictest CAP laws, which place responsibility for safe storage in the hands of gun owners, result in lower rates of unintentional injury and suicides. Estimates suggest that even modest increases in the number of American homes safely storing firearms could prevent almost a third of youth gun deaths due to suicide and unintentional firearm injury. There are no federal child access prevention or safe storage laws.
  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO). Also known as “red flag laws,” ERPOs can serve to further protect children and families by temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns who is found to be at an extreme risk for exhibiting violence. ERPOs are an important supplement to firearm restriction and background check laws because they allow for an individualized assessment, through the courts, to temporarily disarm individuals who would otherwise be able to pass a background check and acquire deadly weapons.
  • Universal Background Checks. Implementing universal background checks, which prevent the transfer of guns without a background check, at the state level have been shown to decrease firearm-related deaths in children. A federal bill that mandates this approach was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 but has still not been voted on in the Senate.

Our work over the past 10 years has demonstrated the multi-faceted approach that gun violence prevention requires: from the importance of early prevention to equip young children with strong problem-solving and anger-management skills, to sensible policy recommendations, to equipping our pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other front line providers with training and resources to educate families about firearm access, safe storage, and mental health support. We join our colleagues here in Philadelphia, and more broadly across the country, as we work together to honor the victims and survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting through our collective efforts. By implementing evidence-based programming and working toward policy change, together we can protect the health and well-being of children.

To learn more about CVP’s research and programs, click here.

To access community-based resources, click here.

To learn more about volunteering with your local Moms Demand Action chapter, click here.