Stemming Gun Violence: A Window of Opportunity

On the morning of December 14, 2012, 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. Last week, 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 children and our communities safe. Now for the first time in twenty years serious gun safety legislation will be debated. Our elected officials must have the courage to support sensible reforms like expanding background checks and limiting the size of ammunition magazines. These reforms can help transform our communities from war zones to places where newborns can safely grow to adulthood.
In California, where nearly 6,000 people are injured or killed by guns every year, there is an opportunity to take it a step further. A package of sensible bills in the LIFE (Life-saving Intelligent Firearms Enforcement) Act are under consideration. The bills include prohibiting large capacity ammunition magazines and strengthening California’s assault weapons ban. The state would prohibit firearm possession by convicted criminals and other serious misdemeanors. Together the LIFE Act is an important start towards curbing the gun violence in California. California’s legislators have an opportunity to lead the nation in protecting our children from gun violence.
A window of opportunity opened after the heavy price paid by innocent young children in Sandy Hook and many more across the country. 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 few weeks 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.”
Originally posted on Huffington Post April 15, 2013 at
Follow Ricky Choi, MD, MPH on Twitter: @rychoiMD