Pediatricians Take on the NRA

PEDIATRICSvsNRA2(Excerpted in part from The Daily Beast May 15, 2014.)

“The NRA and the AAP have been embroiled in a very public legal feud over the rights of doctors to talk with parents about gun safety.”

For the past three decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – with 62,000 members – has been an outspoken voice on the issue of gun control. In 1992, the AAP issued its first policy statement supporting a handgun and assault weapons ban, making it the first public health organization to do so, and it has long recommended that doctors talk about gun safety with parents. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the AAP has stepped up attempts to educate parents about gun safety around children.

Robert E. McAfee, MD, President of the AMA in 1994/95, was the keynote speaker at CAGV’s first annual dinner. As we reported in our first newsletter (Fall 1995, Vol. 1 No. 1), “Firearms are the major cause of violent death and trauma in our society today…” In 1994 the number of Americans who died from gun violence was 30,000. Dr. McAfee exhorted all medical and mental health professionals to speak with their patients about gun ownership.

Twenty years later, on Dec. 14, 2013, the estimated number of people killed by guns (including homicide, suicide and accidental death) since Newtown – using the most recent CDC estimates for yearly data – is 33,l73.

At an April 2014 conference in Vancouver, doctors and scientists associated with the AAP discussed firearm injury prevention, risk factors for gun injuries, popular gun-safety myths, and statistics on suicide and homicide due to guns in the home. “The issue of guns really follows directly from all the concerns we have about injuries in general. This is one kind of injury that endangers the health and life of kids,” said Dr. Robert Sege, a Boston Medical Center pediatrician, who gave a presentation on how to talk about guns with parents.

The AAP has been advocating for an end to gun violence for 30 years. The shooting in Newtown shocked the nation and galvanized the AAP’s doctors to redouble their efforts in support of new gun violence prevention measures.

The NRA says pediatricians have no business talking about gun laws. They praised the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, which they say has been used to teach gun safety to over 27 million children since 1988. The touted success of the Eddie Eagle Program was completely debunked on ABC’s 20/20 television program, “A World Full of Guns,” which CAGV uses in its presentations to parents regarding safety in the home.

The AAP states, “An estimated 20,600 people under the age of 25 are injured by a gun every year and 6,570 die. Guns kill twice as many in this age group as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 20 times as many as infections. By 2015, guns are expected to surpass motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death for young people.”

Fewer Americans are choosing to own guns – the share of households with a gun has dropped to about a third from a half in the 1980s, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet public support for the regulation of firearms also seems to be down. In the 1990s, support for stricter gun laws hovered between 60 and 78%. Recent polling shows fewer than half of Americans think gun laws should be more strict, down

from 58% in a survey taken just after the Newtown shooting. Reading between the lines, the choice not to own firearms is more salient than the polling outcomes.

AAP has started to focus on how to realistically reach parents. The most recent policy statement affirms “the most effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents is the absence of guns from homes and communities.” They advocate for “the strongest possible regulations” for their use and for secure storage of firearms in gun safes.

AAP guidelines urge pediatricians to counsel parents during checkups about the dangers of allowing kids to have access to guns. About half of all AAP pediatricians say they recommend the removal of handguns from the home, according to a national survey.

Funding for federal research—of which there has been almost none—is critical. Even after President Obama lifted the long freeze on gun research—lobbied for and won by the NRA in 1996—Congress has yet to appropriate the ten million in funds

promised to the CDC for gun research. It is highly unlikely this current Congress will vote to give the CDC the funds it needs to research firearm injuries. Without that information we are denied the facts on which to base policy.

Pediatricians say they’ll continue to push for more research and changes in policies that will make children safer. Doctors insist the tide is turning.

“The NRA’s influence has peaked, pediatrician Dr. Sege says. “There are 60,000 of us and we see almost every American child almost every year. If the pediatricians are strong on this issue, it’s hard for me to believe that there will be such a discrepancy over what we believe and what the families we care for believe.

Toni Wellen is the chair of the Santa Barbara Coalition Against Gun Violence. She lives in Carpinteria.
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