A letter from Nicole E. Webb, MD, FAAP Vice President, American Academy of Pediatrics – CA 1
Many of you may already know who I am as your Vice President. For those who do not, I am a pediatrician like you, a parent of 3 young kids, and a longtime pediatric gun violence prevention advocate. So like all of you may be right now, I am struggling with coming to terms with another brutal mass shooting, this time 19 beautiful elementary school children and 2 of their dedicated teachers, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas last week.
Gun violence in the United States is an ever-growing public health epidemic, one made much worse since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with firearm purchases, unintentional and intentional shootings significantly increased across the country, including here in California. Every day in the US, 110 people lose their lives to gun violence, and countless more experience trauma they will carry with them for a lifetime as survivors.
As pediatricians, we are dedicated to the health and happiness of all children. So it should alarm, terrify, and anger us that guns are now the number one cause of death of American children. At times like these, it may feel as though there is nothing we can do. Some have even told us to “stay in your lane”. I want you to know that there is a lot we can and must do. This is absolutely our lane. One of the most critical things we can do as experts in child health is to refocus this conversation on safety rather than politics.
While this is not a political issue, there are policy solutions. We know that gun safety laws save lives. California ranks number one in the country for the strength of our gun safety laws and is among the lowest states in the country for gun deaths per capita. However, we also know that many guns come into our state from other states with less robust gun safety laws, and while strengthening state-level legislation is critically important for us to truly put a stop to pediatric, and adult, gun violence in the US, it will take federal action as well.
So, what can we all do today to take action?
- Call your senators and tell them to demand a vote on H.R.8, the federal background check bill. It was passed by the House of Representatives in 2019 and reintroduced in 2021. You can reach Senator Alex Padilla here and at (202) 224-3553, and Senator Dianne Feinstein here and at (202) 224-3841.
- Contact your local CA legislators and let them know this is an issue that matters to you as a constituent and as a pediatrician. You can find your state representatives here.
- Talk to the families you see about firearm safety and tell them to Be SMART. This is a tool designed for anyone who works with children to be able to discuss safe firearm storage. We will put out more information in the near future regarding how you can incorporate Be SMART into your practice.
- If you are uncomfortable with how to screen for access to firearms and talk about safety, take the SAFER: Storing Firearms Prevents Harm curriculum on Pedialink. It is brief very easy to follow, has great examples of how to have the conversation, and is free to AAP members.
- Talk about the role of guns in teen suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death of US teens. Guns are fatal in 92% of attempts, and the rate of teen firearm suicide has been climbing for many years. The presence of a gun is actually a bigger risk factor for teen suicide than having a mental health diagnosis.
- Join us on 6/15/22 for our chapter chat: Gun Violence and Kids: What Every Pediatrician Needs to Know. Visit our Event Page for more information or Register Here!
- Write an Op Ed for a local, state or national news outlet.
- Write to your local medical society or to the California Medical Association to ask them to dedicate more advocacy toward gun violence prevention.
For those seeking to get more involved, you can join a gun violence prevention organization like Moms Demand Action or Brady United as a volunteer. Your perspective as a pediatrician is critically valuable to the work these organizations do. You can check out additional suggestions for how to get involved at the individual, community, and state/national level on our AAP CA-1 website here.
Lastly, you can Wear Orange this weekend June 3-5. Each year, the first weekend in June is National Gun Violence Awareness weekend. Wear Orange began commemorating the life and death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who marched in President Obama’s second inaugural parade on January 21, 2013 and was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago one week later. The color orange was chosen because it is the color hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others. Wear Orange has become a national event and is now observed every June.
I know the magnitude of this problem seems overwhelming, and that change is taking far too long to come. But I promise you every single action you take, in your daily lives, in your practices, in your advocacy work, can and will make a difference. The AAP nationally is committed to addressing pediatric gun violence, and we are in our chapter as well. We will be here to support you every step of the way. For anyone with questions about getting involved, feel free to reach out to the chapter or me directly at “Contact Dr. Webb” below my profile bio.
Join us for our Chapter Chat:
Gun Violence and Kids: What Every Pediatrician Needs to Know
Date: Wednesday, June 15
Time: 7:00PM – 8:00PM PST