Guns and Better

Someone died.

4 houses from where I lay my head. 4 houses into my route to work. 2 houses from where I park my car. 6 blocks from a hospital, 4 blocks from a park, and 1 block from a tree-lined street, full of the locally owned peculiarities that make San Francisco special.

Yellow tape draped around the trees, the gloved hands of the authorities, and 3 red flares with tiny tendrils of smoke, were all that marked a tragedy.

It was Saturday morning and there was blood on the sidewalk. Someone died and only the sky seemed to mourn, gray and silent.

He was 19. Home from college. Shot on the street and dead.

In the wake of the tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary, it seemed America had finally lost its taste for the spoils of gunfire. Despite what gun lobbyists would have us believe, animals aren’t the only victims of loaded weapons. Guns kill kids. And while the events at Sandy Hook were horrific, only 1-2% of youth homicides occur at school.

The truth is, kids are dying in our neighborhoods.

And just when we finally seemed ready to have a responsible discussion about rights in this country, namely the right to protect ourselves from the tyranny of guns, we wait. We wait for our federal legislature to grasp that the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment can never be placed above the sanctity of precious American lives.

What gives? What other lethal weapons are so protected in this country? Cars require registration and training to operate. Unsafe chemicals require warnings (and if they are particularly toxic their manufacture, distribution, and use are regulated by the government). Cigarettes cannot be sold to minors, are heavily taxed, and many states now prohibit their use in public spaces. New York even considered banning soda because it may kill someone in the future, from complications of diabetes and heart disease (which have been linked to high sugar intake).

In America, it seems, we have no problem placing limits on things we deem a threat to public safety and public health. And yet, we wait on expansive federal gun control. And more importantly, while we wait, recent polls show our collective conscience is losing sight of the urgency of the issue.

Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24; and if you happen to be an African-American male, it is the number ONE cause of death. In 2010, 13 kids a day were victims of homicide and more than 80% of them were killed by a firearm. And in the 3 and 1/2 months since Sandy Hook, more than 2,200 lives have been lost to gun violence (that is akin to a Newtown every single day since the mass shooting).

The data is clear. People are dying and we have a system that protects gun ownership at the expense of our lives.

It is time for something better.

As a pediatrician and children’s health advocate, I stand with President Barack Obama and the American Academy of Pediatrics in demanding better from my federal government.

  • Reinstate and expand the 1994 assault weapon ban and limit high-capacity ammunition magazines (thanks Sen. Dianne Feinstein!).
  • Require criminal background checks for gun sales, including those by private sellers that are currently exempt (thanks Gov. Dannel Malloy, and Gov. John Hickenlooper!).
  • End the national research blackout on gun violence and enable scientific data to inform future policy.
  • Expand access to mental health services and treatment to individuals in need.
  • Invest in communities with high rates of violence to undermine the economy of crime.

Congress, people are dying and we must take notice. I pray the issue doesn’t have to come to your neighborhood, 4 houses down from where you rest, to get your attention. The time for better is now.

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A National Healing

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Like many of you, I spent this past weekend searching for understanding and healing – trying to process the tragic events that took the lives of 20 young souls and 8 adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Understanding may never come, but here are some thoughts on healing.

As a young pediatrician, I know I don’t know everything about child health. But this, I know for sure. Guns kill kids.

While the recent events may seem horrifically random, it turns out homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for our young people aged 15-24. And if you are African American in that age group, it is the number one cause of death. Sadly, in 2010, an average of 13 kids a day (age 10-24), were victims of homicide. And among those victims, 82.8% were killed with a firearm. Guns.

What happened in Connecticut is heart breaking, but less than 1% of youth homicides occur at school.

The truth is, our kids are dying in our neighborhoods. And they are dying from guns.

Not just guns wielded by the mentally unstable or personally careless, but guns in our homes and guns in our communities. National data has consistently shown that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. The bottom line is, guns are unsafe, no matter who bought them or where they are kept. And that’s not even getting into the discussion of semi-automatic weapons (which I don’t think any of us need data to realize, are never safe on our streets).

What happened in Connecticut is what’s happening across our country every day. We must connect the dots. Too many children are dying from senseless gun violence and it is a public health crisis.

We need a national healing and it starts with the collective love of our children and a united refusal to allow any more youth to meet this tragic end. As we mourn the loss of each precious life, we must talk prevention. I join many of you in echoing to our President, congress, state, and local officials, we need comprehensive gun control laws and an expansion of mental health services for those in need.

Contact your officials here.

References: See the links, image credit