“There have been more than 52,000 pediatric firearm deaths in the past 18 years,” says Dr. Eric Fleegler, a pediatric emergency physician at Boston Children’s Hospital as he kicks off his talk. It’s May 3, 2018, and he’s sharing the startling statistic with a rapt audience at the hospital’s Special Grand Rounds on Trauma and Gun Violence.
Later that same day, a 10-year-old Ohio boy will be shot in the face while he sleeps in bed, one of 11 bullets to enter his home during a drive-by shooting. Three North Dakota siblings ages 6 to 14 will be murdered by their mother — who will then kill herself — with a handgun. The following day, a 3-year-old South Carolina boy will fatally shoot himself in the head while playing with a gun he finds at a family friend’s home. …
By Eric Fleegler, MD, MPH, attending in Pediatric Emergency Medicine; co-author, “Attempts to Silence Firearm Injury Prevention.”
At the time I was struck by the raw power of the gun, the enjoyment of the moment. Twenty-two years later I am struck by the potential on that day for a devastating accident. I was in the backwoods of a classmate’s house. We were by ourselves, shooting an old microwave in the middle of the day.
As a pediatric emergency medicine doctor I see the results of bad decisions every single shift: bike accidents that occur without helmets which lead to permanent brain injury. Intoxicated teenagers who aspirate their own vomit and end up in the intensive care unit. Sexually active adolescents who don’t use protection and get infections—or get pregnant. A 10-year-old child accidentally shot in the thigh by his friend while playing with his dad’s gun.
Discussions about risky behaviors are too late for these kids. They needed guidance, at regular intervals, prior to these incidents—the kind of guidance that is the mainstay of what we do as health care providers. Asking patients about tobacco, drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, and finding out if they are depressed, have suicidal thoughts and have access to weapons that can readily kill them is vital to my work as an emergency medicine physician. …
I don’t know whether you’ve heard about this, but on June 2nd Governor Scott of Florida signed a bill making it illegal for doctors to ask if families own a gun. Apparently the National Rifle Association and other gun activists feel that doctors have an agenda when it comes to guns.
They’re right. We do have an agenda.
Our agenda is keeping kids alive.
In pursuit of that agenda, we pediatricians aren’t just concerned about guns. We are passionate about car seats, bike helmets and immunizations. We want to be sure that pools are secured, and that medications and dangerous chemicals are kept out of reach. We worry about whether people are smoking cigarettes around our patients—and as our patients get older, we worry about whether they are smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol, or using drugs. Talking to families about guns is just one piece of what we do in our attempt to be sure that our patients grow up. …