Stemming Gun Violence: A Window of Opportunity
On the morning of December 14, 2012, just 6 months ago, I was rounding on newborn babies in the hospital. Zipping from room to room I checked on swaddled babies sleeping in the crook of their exhausted mothers' arms. For a brief moment I glanced at my twitter feed and stood stunned as news trickled in about a classroom of first graders who were savagely shot and killed. As a pediatrician, I felt undone. Children in my care were newly born and healthy. Children of others were prematurely taken away.
While the sudden loss of so many young children in Sandy Hook was heart wrenching, there are many more young lives lost in relative anonymity. The statistics are stunning. Across the country, a child is injured or killed by a gun in the United States every thirty-one minutes.
According to research from the Harvard School of Public Health, a child in the United States is thirteen times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than a child in Finland, France, or New Zealand. In other words, living the United States is a risk factor for gun injury and death.
While we don't live in a war zone, the numbers suggest otherwise. More children were injured by guns in 2008-2009 than the number of U.S. personnel wounded in action in Iraq. David Wheeler, a parent who lost his first grade son at Sandy Hook pleaded on CBS's 60 Minutes, "It's going to happen again. Every time, it's somebody else's school, it's somebody else's community, it's somebody else's town. Until one day, you wake up and it's not."
One year ago this month it happened in my community. On a campus in Oakland only eight miles from my clinic, an angry gunman shot and killed seven nursing students. Nearly all of the students killed had come to my clinic for training only weeks prior. Gun violence is not an issue in someone else's community. It is in yours and mine.
Washington has a responsibility to help keep our nation’s children and communities safe. However, much to my disappointment, little progress was made as gun legislation died in the Senate over expanded background checks for gun owners. Sadly, this legislative defeated does not mean gun violence will go away. Our elected officials must have the courage to support sensible reforms like expanding background checks and limiting the size of ammunition magazines. These reforms could help transform our communities from war zones to places where newborns can safely grow to adulthood.
Fortunately, some progress is being made at the state level. In California, where nearly 6,000 people are injured or killed by guns every year a package of sensible bills called the LIFE (Life-saving Intelligent Firearms Enforcement) Act passed in the California Senate floor this past May. The bills include prohibiting large capacity ammunition magazines and strengthening California's assault weapons ban. These bills would close loop holes in existing legislation by prohibiting firearm possession by convicted criminals and other serious misdemeanors. Together the LIFE Act is an important start towards curbing the gun violence in California. Now it is the California State Assembly’s turn to do the right thing for California’s children and communities and make this act law.
A window of opportunity opened after the heavy price paid by innocent young children in Sandy Hook just six months ago and many more across the country since. When a rare window opens, we must go through it otherwise countless lives will be lost before it opens again. As President Obama warned a months ago, "The entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten."
This post is part of the project, "Sorrow, Anger, ACTION! - A Gathering of Voices Against Gun Violence," organized by MomsRising, PICO Network, UltraViolet, Children's Defense Fund and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.