March 27, 2018
I was very proud to be a pediatrician and a mother this past weekend. It took young people—not people with important titles or powerful positions of influence—to craft an impassioned voice to end gun violence in America. Students deserve to be safe and to feel safe in school—and parents deserve a level of comfort that their children are safe when they leave them off at school.
The young survivors of the terrible high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, led hundreds of thousands of Americans across the United States on Saturday in the “March for Our Lives.” The largest event was in Washington, DC—but sister events were held throughout the country, including at Tranquility Park in Houston. These articulate and passionate young people are honoring and remembering the victims (of this and other school shootings) by leading a movement for stricter gun control laws. Their voices are inspirational—calling for real change now.
My husband worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1996, when Dr. Mark Rosenberg, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, was fired because of his commitment to research into gun violence and the era of federally funded gun-violence research came to an abrupt halt. The center Dr. Rosenberg led supported research to provide an evidence base upon which to make policy decisions. As physicians and scientists, we understand that we need to ask the right questions and need carefully collected data to answer those questions so that we can make thoughtful decisions and policy recommendations. Rep. Jay Dickey (R- Ark.) was opposed to the CDC’s work at the time and spearheaded legislation to end gun-violence research. He and Dr. Rosenberg were at odds related to issues surrounding gun control and gun-violence research. But times change and opinions change. It is remarkable to see that Rep. Dickey and Dr. Rosenberg have come together over the years—now writing together on protecting gun rights at the same time that we reduce the unspeakable toll of gun violence in our country.
In 2014, I co-chaired a session at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting on “Firearm Injury Prevention in Children: Setting the Research Agenda.” The session was designed to focus attention on research rather than on personal opinion or politics. BUT what I remember most about the session is not the talks or the press coverage that followed, but something very personal. The session was held early on a Sunday morning. About 3 AM the night before the session, I received a phone call from my elder son, calling from a police station in Oakland, California. As he walked a friend home sometime after midnight, a car stopped in front of them. Two men got out of the car and approached them. One of the men put a gun to my son’s head and demanded his wallet. To my great relief, he was not hurt. As you might expect, my prepared opening remarks were never used. Rather, I talked about being a mother who could have lost a son that night—could have been one of too many mothers grieving the loss of a child to gun violence.
Several professional societies have issued statements on gun violence. The Western Trauma Association, a group of physicians and surgeons dedicated to the treatment of injured patients, released a statement on assault weapons. They wrote, “Since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, there has been an unprecedented increase in gun violence incidents, an increase in gun violence deaths, and a precipitous increase in mass shootings………. The presence of these weapons in our society endangers the lives of every man, woman and child in the United States.”
Following the Parkland shootings, the American College of Surgeons wrote an open letter on violence prevention. They outlined a 9-point action plan to address violence as a public health rather than a political issue and emphasized that the ACS programs hoped to promote responsible firearm ownership and non-violent conflict resolution.
On Friday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a video of pediatricians from across the country expressing their support for the children and youth advocating to prevent gun violence. The AAP also announced a new research initiative to protect children from gun violence.
The federal budget, signed on Friday, opens the door once again for CDC research into gun violence. Let’s hope that funding follows and that we can begin a new data-driven dialogue into how best to stem the tide of violence in America. A fitting response to the impassioned youthful voices of Saturday’s marches will be to rise above personal opinions and political differences to address this public health crisis and to do what’s needed to keep our children and families safe.
Quotes that resonated with me related to youth and leadership and change:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,” John Quincy Adams
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed peoples can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead
“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease,” Robert Kennedy
“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation,” Pearl S. Buck
Related articles and weblinks:
Time for collaboration on gun research
Two sides come together on gun research funding
Gun violence research
March for our lives