Now is the time to take action
Kids and teens have the right to feel safe where they live, learn and play. Unfortunately, that safety is being threatened every day by firearm-related violence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more American children die from gunshots than from any other cause. Not cancer or car accidents—guns. Every single day of the week, a gun kills a child age 12 or younger.
We see this same violence reflected in our communities here in the Twin Cities. To address the public health crisis caused by guns, a diverse group of community members, organizations, and health systems are joining together to host a community resources and gun buyback event.
Firearm violence disparities
The CDC reported that during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates of gun deaths increased by 35% from 2019 to 2020. The highest increase was seen among kids, teens, and young adults ages 10 to 24. The numbers also reflect long-standing disparities in gun violence:
- The number of Black males aged 10–24 years killed by guns was more than 20 times as high as the rate among White males of the same age in 2019, and this ratio increased to 22 in 2020.
- Gun deaths were highest and increased the most in counties with higher poverty levels. Racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to live in communities with high surrounding poverty.
- The number of people who died by suicide with a firearm remained relatively unchanged between 2019 and 2020. However, the largest increase was among American Indian and Alaska Native persons, resulting in this group having the highest firearm suicide rate as of 2020.
As pediatricians, we have cared for kids who have come into our hospitals as the victims of firearm-related injuries. Many are victims of gun violence while others, sadly, are the victims of self-inflicted firearm-injuries from a suicide attempt. The youngest are often the unintentional victims of gunshot wounds from improperly stored firearms.
These kids shouldn’t be rushed to our emergency rooms clinging to life as we do everything possible to get them back home to their family and friends. Instead, these kids and teens deserve the opportunity to play and learn without fear of injury or death from guns in their homes and neighborhoods.
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers have a responsibility to not only heal but help prevent things that threaten the health of our patients. That is why Minnesota healthcare systems declared gun violence a public health crisis this summer. To address the epidemic of gun violence both locally and nationally, Minnesota’s healthcare systems pledged to collaborate and act on the development of solutions to prevent gun violence and advance conversations on reforms to protect patients, employees and communities.
Preventing gun deaths
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that the safest home for a child is one without guns. If there is a gun in the home, there are steps parents and caregivers can take to reduce the chances of a child being injured, or worse killed, including:
- Evidence shows that the risk of injury or death is greatly reduced when guns are stored unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked in a separate place.
- Families can also consider storing guns outside the home to decrease access by children and youth in the household.
- It is critical to remove guns from the homes of kids and teens who are depressed.
- Ask about guns. If your child is going to play at a friend or relative’s home, ask other parents if there is a gun in the home and if it is stored securely.
- Talk to your children. Remind your kids that if they ever come across a gun, they must stay away from it and tell you immediately.
You can also join your local community in grassroots events like an upcoming gun buyback and community resources event Oct. 28-29 at the Colin Powell Center in Minneapolis. The event will address many issues that contribute to the pervasiveness of gun violence as well as provide a variety of community resources including housing, employment, medical, mental and physical health support and emergency assistance. There will also be a “no questions asked” opportunity for people to exchange guns for gift cards. More information can be found at Wellspring Second Chance Center website (www.wellspringmn.org).
It’s time we take action to prevent the tragic losses families face every day across the country and right here in the Twin Cities. It’s time we do everything in our power to keep our kids safe.
Dr. Kiragu is an associate of the Children’s Respiratory and Critical Care Specialist’s group and provides pediatric critical care at Children’s Minnesota. Dr. Kiragu is a passionate advocate for children and is immediate-past president of the MN Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a past president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. He is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Marc Gorelick is president and CEO of Children’s Minnesota. He is deeply committed to advocacy issues that impact children’s health, sustainability, and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.