Essay: Gun Violence Is a Public Health Emergency for Our Children

It was the end of the work day when the news from Uvalde  began to flash across our phones. Like pediatricians across the country my eyes welled up with tears. These were tears not only of sadness for these young children, not only of horror for the terror they experienced and not just of anguish for their families. These were also tears of disillusionment, tears of disbelief, tears of anger and tears of betrayal.

As pediatricians we dedicate our lives to keeping children safe and healthy. We use evidence-based medicine–research and data–to help guide us as we counsel families, as we treat and prevent illness and disease and as we reduce harm from preventable causes. We do this  every single day. We instruct on car seat safety, on building gates around pools and on placing babies on their backs when they sleep, because the evidence has shown that these measures can prevent injury and death in babies and children. For isn’t it common sense to do something proven  by research to protect their lives?

We talk about common sense gun safety legislation. Think about those words. Common Sense. Laws that would employ background checks, require safe gun storage and utilize extreme risk protection orders would save children’s lives. The research proves it. Why then do we not treat gun injuries and death with the same urgency as other urgent public health issues? Isn’t it common sense to employ these measures, to make them law, if they will save the lives of children? Who could possibly oppose laws that will literally save children’s lives ?  Yet here we find ourselves. Gun injury is now the number one cause of death for our nation’s children. More children now die from guns than from anything else in this country. No other country in the developed world carries such a horrifying distinction. Worse, we know these deaths are preventable.

This is why pediatricians around the country cried bitter tears after Uvalde, why we are experiencing a collective grief at this moment.

In the nearly twenty years since Sandy Hook, and the four years since Parkland, no action has been taken at the national level to protect our children from gun violence. It feels like a slap in the face against everything we do–everything we care about as pediatricians. It is almost inconceivable to us that anyone–particularly legislators with the power to do so, would not want to do all they could to prevent the senseless injury and death of children.

And we know — we all know, it’s not just these mass shootings. On average, twelve children and teens die from gun injuries every single day in this country and that number has been rising exponentially the past several years with 4,357 pediatric deaths in 2020; deaths from gun violence, accidents and suicide. Thousands more children are injured every year. Just last month my pediatric emergency medicine colleagues here on Long Island described to me a boy who accidentally shot his friend in the jaw with a relative’s gun. Another 15-year-old was shot in the neck, leaving her permanently paralyzed. We also know too well the emotional trauma gun violence has upon every person, every family and every community touched by it .

The thing about feeling bitter and disillusioned is that it just doesn’t feel good, and more importantly, it does not help protect children. So we pediatricians and all of us have to take that collective grief we are all experiencing, the anger and frustration we are all feeling and we must keep fighting for what we know is right, what we know is just and what we know is common sense for anyone who cares about the well being of children. We must treat gun violence like the public health emergency that it is. We must be the voices for our children.

Eve Meltzer Krief, MD
Legislative Advocacy Co-Chair
Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn Chapter
American Academy of Pediatrics


Image by Dr. Ben Hoffman. Each bus holds 72 children . Each year 162 buses worth of children are injured or killed by guns

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