Shooting deaths could be reduced, yet elected officials are reluctant to act.
It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day; bad news about gun violence keeps popping up with maddening regularity.
Today we learn that 3.5 children die from gun violence every day and 15.5 more are injured. Specifically, a study in the journal Pediatrics has reported that between 2012 and 2014, 1,300 kids a year, on average, were shot and killed, making firearms second only to motor vehicle accidents as a cause of injury-related deaths. And make no mistake about it, this is a uniquely American tragedy. Among the world’s 23 richest countries, the United States accounts for a whopping 91 percent of all firearm related deaths of children under 14, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Some of the statistics are painfully predictable. Homicides accounted for 53 percent of the deaths, and adolescent boys aged 14 to 17 years were the vast majority of those killed. (The study defined children as 0 to 17 years of age.) African American kids were the most likely victims.
Not so expected was a significant rise in suicides, which accounted for 38 percent of deaths. Suicide by gun among youngsters has climbed 60 percent since 2007. These victims were more likely non-Hispanic whites or Native Americans.
The children who fit the category of unintentional firearm injuries – “accidents” – are the most difficult to contemplate. They were often shot at home by another child while playing with a gun or showing it off. Too many of these children are toddlers. An investigative report by the Washington Post in 2015 found 43 instances when a toddler younger than 3 years old shot somebody; thirteen killed themselves. It is a parent’s worst nightmare.
The Pediatrics study is so disheartening because with the exception of homicides, most of these shootings are easily preventable. All it would take is a genuine effort to improve gun safety in the home and to remove impediments to the development and sale of smart guns. As for homicides – and suicides – we need a better understanding of the societal, cultural, and familial pressures that drive a kid to kill kids – or himself. Congress should repeal the Dickey Amendment, which has for 20 years prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from undertaking research into gun violence.
Strengthening Child Access Prevention laws, which hold gun owners accountable for safe storage of firearms, would have a significant impact on child shooting deaths, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. There are no CAP laws at the federal level, and only 27 states have some form of the law, ranging from relatively strong to very weak. Texas has one of the stronger laws, and it is only a misdemeanor.
The most effective solution, of course, would be built-in technologies that make guns child-proof. Consumers have come to accept child-proof caps on medicines, finger-print protected smart phones, and are well on their way to accepting self-driving cars. So why not smart gun technology, which is designed to prevent anyone other than the owner from firing a weapon?
The National Rifle Association and its lobbying arm have used their significant power over elected officials to prevent progress on all these fronts. Why? Because they view each as a ploy by enemies of Second Amendment rights to confiscate their guns. Truth is, some serious gun control advocates don’t much like the idea of a technological solution either since they fear safer guns will make it harder to ban or limit firearms.
Our representatives in Austin and Washington D.C., could settle this argument once and for all.
Take the side of their youngest constituents and just say no to the NRA. Require under penalty of law that guns be safely stored, support research into the causes and prevention of gun violence, and encourage development of smart gun technology. But don’t take too long. Kids are dying every day.
The 2nd toddler shooting a toddler incident happened today, one in Colorado and the other in Philadelphia. ANOTHER BABY who should have not died.
What seriously is wrong with us? Prayers just aren’t saving these little kids, regardless of what they might be telling you.
Holding adults responsible is a big solution. About 25 states don’t have laws that allow prosecutors to hold gun owners liable if a child accessed a gun and pulled the trigger. However, we expect adults who allow kids to be harmed in any other way to be charged with child abuse, right?
Until we get serious & vote with these kids in mind, nothing will change.
Published by USAToday/AP and numerous local media markets – May 25, 2017
Children under age 12 die from gun accidents in the United States about once a week, on average. Almost every death begins with the same basic circumstances: an unsecured and loaded gun, a guardian’s lapse in attention.
CFSA Co-Director/Founder Beth Joslin Roth is featured below for her work in Tennessee on MaKayla’s Law.
In state after state, proposals that would create or toughen laws intended to keep kids from getting ahold of unsecured guns have stalled — caught up in a debate over whether they are effective prevention measures or just government overreach.
Child access prevention laws allow prosecutors to bring charges against adults who fail to safely store their loaded guns, especially when they are obtained by minors and used to harm.
Public health experts say the laws could significantly reduce unintentional shootings that kill and injure hundreds of children every year, particularly if they allow for felonies against violators and are paired with educational campaigns to raise awareness.
But legislative efforts in dozens of states have run into opposition from lawmakers aligned with the National Rifle Association. Critics say the laws trample on the rights of gun owners who should be able to store their firearms however they want, and unfairly single out guns. Swimming pools and prescription drugs also can cause accidental deaths of children, they say.
Even in states that have such laws, they are rarely used when unsecured guns contribute to the death of a child. An AP-USA TODAY Network analysis found the laws were invoked in 14 out of 152 deaths of children under age 12 over the last three years. Five of those came in Texas, where the offense is a misdemeanor, although grand juries later declined to issue indictments in two of them.
Added agony: Justice is haphazard after kids’ gun deaths
Some gun-control advocates are undeterred. More needs to be done to protect children who live in and visit millions of homes with loaded, unsecured guns every year, they say.
In Tennessee, MaKayla’s law — named for an 8-year-old killed by a neighbor who got hold of his father’s gun — would have made it a felony for gun owners to store weapons in a way that allowed children access to them.
Sponsors were outraged that the 11-year-old who shot MaKayla Dyer will be jailed until he is an adult while his father remains free. The boy was convicted of murder for killing the girl after she refused to let him play with her puppy.
They argued that the state’s high rate of shootings involving children needed to be addressed. Gun-rights activists claimed the measure would allow government to tell law-abiding adults how to store their guns, and a Republican-controlled committee voted 7-2 against it.
Sponsors addressed that criticism and returned this year with a simpler version allowing adults to be charged with reckless endangerment if children obtain their guns and use them to kill or injure. But in March, the proposed MaKayla’s law met a similar fate. It was rejected 6-3 in committee.
This time, lawmakers argued the bill wasn’t necessary because prosecutors could bring charges under existing laws, such as reckless homicide.
“They beat us again,” said Beth Joslin Roth, director of the Safe Tennessee Project, which backed the measure. “But we’ll keep fighting for it. These shootings keep happening.”
Tennessee has one of the highest rates of accidental shootings involving minors of any state, according to a separate AP-USA TODAY Network investigation last year. During a 2½-year period starting in January 2014, 17 minors in the state under age 18 were killed in accidental shootings and 35 were injured.
Roth’s experience is in line with what other gun-control advocates have faced in states across the country.
From 2012 through 2016, efforts to create laws in 11 states that don’t have them — and to strengthen laws in 20 others that do — have failed. Not one became law. Few of the plans received public hearings, and those that did were often vocally opposed by gun-rights activists.
So far, 27 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of a child access prevention law, although their provisions vary widely. Most carry only misdemeanor penalties, and some are written very narrowly so that they may not apply even when children die. Others are intended to keep guns away from kids who might commit a crime.
See more at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/05/24/states-rejecting-bills-intended-keep-guns-away-kids/102019946/
Recently VOX Magazine, published by students at the J School of the University of Missouri devoted an entire issue to “Missouri Under the Gun”:
“Caught between politics and the E.R.”
by RENEE HICKMAN, April 27, 2017 – VOX Magazine, University of Missouri
In 2014, about four years after she started practicing medicine, Dr. Pam Choi, chief surgery resident at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, was working an overnight shift when her pager buzzed. A tiny patient was headed to the emergency room. “When you see that page come across — ‘13-month old baby, GSW (gunshot wound)’ — your blood just runs cold and you’re like, ‘Oh my God; what should I expect?’” she says.
Before coming to St. Louis, Choi thinks she saw only one patient who’d been shot — a man who came into the ER while she was on a surgery rotation as a medical student at the University of Rochester. She grew up in the Northern New Jersey suburb of Franklin Lakes, one of the safest towns in the state. Her family never owned a gun, and gun violence was neither part of her personal experience nor an issue she thought about much.
Choi arrived at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for her residency and witnessed with horror the regularity with which children were brought into in the emergency room with firearm injuries. The incidents began to blur together in her memory. She cannot remember her first child gunshot victim, but she remembers the 13-month-old boy.
He had been shot as his mother held him in her arms. Only vague details were relayed to Choi as the paramedics rushed the baby across the city in the night, but she thinks the bullets were meant for someone else. The baby was just in the way.
Choi and her team raced to the trauma bay and waited for the ambulance to arrive. She found herself standing very still as she focused on how she would deal with all the possible scenarios. Would there be cardiac injuries? How much blood loss would there be? Was the ambulance taking a long time, or did it just feel that way? She and her colleagues exchanged only a few words. Did they have all the supplies they needed? Were they ready? The younger the patients, the less likely they are to survive traumatic injuries.
The boy arrived in the ambulance with his mother. As paramedics wheeled him into the emergency room, Choi pulled the mother aside into a quiet conference room and explained where they were taking her son. As she explained that surgeons would operate on the baby, the sobbing mother begged them to do whatever they could. Choi promised that they would, but experience had taught her that even in the best of circumstances, doctors never quite know what will happen after a patient enters the ER.
The boy was crying loudly when the paramedics rushed him in. He’d been shot once, but the single bullet in his small body had done enough damage to threaten his life. As Choi and her team worked, he got weaker, and his cries grew softer. He struggled to breathe. The doctors worked for several hours to stabilize him and complete the operation. Finally, it became clear that he would live.
Despite the victory of the boy’s survival, Choi continues to be disturbed by that night. “They bring in this baby, and he’s bawling, and he’s chubby,” she says. As his recovery dragged on, she could only think that he didn’t belong there. He should be like any other 1-year-old, happily learning and exploring his world.
The longer she worked, the more frustrated Choi became watching one child gunshot victim after another appear on her operating table. On average, between April 2008 and March 2013, there were six firearm injuries per month in children under 16 in St. Louis.
It was easier to think of the problem the way she’d been trained to, in terms of epidemics — the way one might ponder an outbreak of polio, the flu or the spread of HIV. If children were being hurt and killed by something in the world, causes could be researched and solutions implemented.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital has one of two Level I trauma centers equipped to treat pediatric gunshot injuries in the St. Louis metro area. During intake, social workers interview patients and their families to determine the circumstances surrounding their injuries. Choi recognized that her facility was uniquely positioned to gather data on gunshot wounds and homicides of children in the region and the factors that led to them.
She and the other co-authors of the study “Firearm injuries in the pediatric population: A tale of one city” looked at the children who arrived at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, the other pediatric Level I trauma unit in the area, over a period of five years from 2008 to 2013. During that period, they documented 398 gunshot injuries in children — one of the highest rates in the nation. For comparison, a similar study done in Colorado over nine years recorded 129 gunshot injuries in children. A study over 10 years in Detroit recorded 289. The children were shot in the city and in the suburbs, as bystanders to crime and in accidents. Slightly fewer than half were in their own homes.
The high rates of gun violence in St. Louis have led to numerous intervention attempts by agencies, private organizations and law enforcement. Programs for at-risk youth have been launched, community forums are held regularly, and in 2014, St. Louis County established a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. for minors under 17.
Still, the issue has persisted. In fact, Choi noticed that during the period she studied, before the curfew laws were in place, most gun injuries actually happened outside curfew hours, between 6 p.m. and midnight.
A significant change in gun violence rates did occur recently. After 2007, the year Missouri legislators repealed a law requiring gun owners to obtain a license proving they’d passed a background check, firearm homicide rates spiked. Afterward, the rates continued to rise, jumping 23 percent through 2010, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy Research.
When asked how she thinks the new “permitless carry” and “stand your ground” legislation will affect the situation in her emergency room, Choi is less than optimistic. “I don’t think it will help,” she says.
Many doctors in St. Louis echo the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians in saying they want to approach gun violence affecting both children and adults as a public health issue, disentangling research and preventative measures from the partisan politics of gun legislation.
“We had carnage on the roads, and this was clearly recognized as a public health issue,” Powderly says. “And over the next 30, 40 years, we gradually made driving a much safer enterprise in the United States.”
But in Missouri (and in the U.S.), guns are not like cars. Politics have so thoroughly saturated any discussion about gun safety that some doctors change their word choice to make gun owners more receptive to their ideas.
Dr. Robert Kennedy, a pediatrician who, like Choi, works in the emergency room at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, would rather not use the term “gun control,” for instance. “When you use that language a lot of people tune you out,” he says.
Kennedy has been in the field for about 40 years. Sitting in his house in St. Louis, he clicks through slides of data on gunshot injuries to children in St. Louis on his computer — locations, ages, intentional or unintentional — and recounts one tragic story after another. There was the child who thought a family handgun was a squirt-gun, the 12-year-old who didn’t mean to shoot his friend after finding a gun in his grandfather’s bedroom, the father who accidentally shot his infant son while in the car. On and on and on.
In 2013, not long after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Kennedy wrote an op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with fellow St. Louis Children’s Hospital physicians David Jaffe and Martin Keller. In it, they called gun violence in St. Louis a public health crisis. The doctors implored readers to support recommendations by a host of medical professional organizations that wanted to ban assault weapons and large ammunition magazines and end federal restrictions on funding research into gun violence.
But today, Kennedy has stopped looking to legislative solutions to help halt the flow of gunshot victims into his emergency room. “I don’t think there is any way to get any legislation passed right now with the mentality that we have,” he says.
He prefers simple measures doctors might take, such as asking more questions while documenting patient medical histories. Queries about gun ownership and storage would appear alongside questions such as, “How many alcoholic drinks do you have per week?”
But in some cases, those questions have been politicized. In 2011, a Florida law backed by the National Rifle Association barred doctors from asking patients whether they kept guns in their homes. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down the law, saying it violated doctors’ rights to free speech. Missouri doctors are currently allowed to ask about firearm ownership and safety, but no law can require them to ask about guns in the home or document gun ownership as part of a patient’s history.
If doctors and public health experts are seeking treatments to what they view as an epidemic, Mary Hennings could be considered a survivor of the disease. Hennings is recovering from her fourth surgery following her 2013 gunshot injury.
On a warm evening in March, she moves with difficulty around her daughter’s home in Jennings, a St. Louis suburb. She looks for the right place to sit so as not to irritate her left hip, which was recently replaced. She points to the spots where the bullet entered her leg and then traveled upward. A long, deep scar marks its path.
Hennings was standing in front of her son Michael’s house when she was shot. She was about to head into the city with a few family members and friends. But then Michael had to use the bathroom, someone else forgot their phone charger and the trip was delayed. Hurrying to make her appointment, Hennings went to get the charger.
Before she could open the door, she fell to the ground, confused, and tried to move but couldn’t. As the pain spread through her leg, she heard more rounds being fired and understood what was happening. She prayed for the shooter to run out of bullets and for the pain to stop. To this day, the case is unsolved.
Hennings’ godson, Anthony, ran to her on the porch. He is so much a part of her family that he calls her “Mama.” As she bled onto the steps, he ripped off his shirt. “Mama, this is gonna hurt,” he told her as he used the shirt to create a tourniquet. Later, a doctor told Hennings his action had probably saved her life.
This was not the first time Hennings had experienced gun violence. Her son Alvin was shot and killed in 1989 in the St. Louis area. Five months after Hennings was shot, her son Michael was also killed with a firearm.
Michael Hennings’ daughter sits at the kitchen table. She is focused intensely on her homework, while Mary Hennings points to scrapbooked pictures of Michael. The pictures show a handsome man in his 30s who smiles easily back at the camera. Hennings likes to remember doing work around the house with Michael, fighting over who would cut the grass. Shortly before he died, he told Hennings he was going to barber school, so he could cut hair for a living like his mother. “Michael was a good guy,” Hennings says gazing at the photos. At times, she closes her eyes against the tears.
Hennings hopes the hip replacement will be her last surgery. Her daughter, Kimberly, takes care of her daily needs but is overbooked with two jobs, one in health care and another at the hair salon she owns.
She is impatient to be able to move around more easily. She wants to spend more time with local advocacy groups working to stop gun violence in St. Louis and wants to start working as a barber again.
Hennings says there are too many guns in her neighborhood, and she thinks Missouri’s new “permitless carry” law will worsen the problem. Guns are “getting in the wrong hands,” she says. But she is torn on the issue. Hennings owns a gun herself. She wonders if, had she been able to reach the weapon, she might’ve been able to stop the man who shot her.
Jonathan Martinez, 8 years old, went to school this morning. A kid just like any of ours, he was expecting a routine school day with his teachers and friends.
Even though he didn’t shoot himself, this was a gun tragedy that was preventable and should not have happened. Jonathan’s shooter should not have had access to a handgun.
There was silence from the White House and the gun lobby today but we along with many other survivors and gun violence prevention advocates refuse to be quiet. They are complicit. We will fight back.
We are thinking of Jonathan’s family, classmates, staff and so many who will live with this trauma for the rest of their lives. We are thinking of his 9 year old classmate who is in serious condition after also being shot. We are thinking of numerous other survivors who have to relive their gun violence every time there’s a little kid like Jonathan, who should have come from school today.
We promise Jonathan we will not stop doing everything we can – yelling and screaming – to prevent other little kids from this senseless murder.