As the nation marks the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which killed 20 young children, doctors continue to urge lawmakers to take the necessary steps to safeguard kids’ health. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — a national group representing about 60,000 pediatricians — sent a letter to Congress this week pushing for “comprehensive federal policy that addresses the public health threat of gun violence and its destructive effects in the lives of children.”
The AAP estimates that firearms are one of the top three causes of death among American youth. Twice as many kids are killed by guns than by cancer — and, according to recent federal health data, the number of children dying from gun violence continues to rise.
This year, after Congress failed to pass a popular bill that would have expanded background checks for gun sales, the pediatrician group stepped up its lobbying efforts. AAP members traveled to Capitol Hill in April to push for gun policy reform.
“This should not be a political issue. Gun violence is a public health issue that profoundly affects children and their families,” the AAP’s president, Dr. Thomas K. McInerny, explains in a new statement. “We know what works — strong laws to enforce background checks and safe storage. But our elected leaders need to find a way forward to protect our children.”
And in its letter to lawmakers, AAP points out that addressing gun violence involves more than simply reforming the way the country regulates firearms. The group also advocates for implementing community-based violence prevention programs and public education campaigns, as well as investing more money into scientific research in this field.
Back in the 1990s, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies stripped funding for the Centers for Disease Control’s gun research programs, which has seriously hampered public health efforts to study the effects of gun violence. It’s perhaps no surprise that the NRA is wary of medical research on firearms; the few researchers who have been able to conduct studies in this area have found compelling evidence that more guns lead to more murders and suicides. The NRA has also actively worked to discredit the AAP, and co-sponsored legislation in multiple states to prevent pediatricians from asking parents about guns in the home.
In addition to mass shootings like the tragedy in Newtown, many kids are accidentally shot by other kids who are playing with guns in their homes. Nonetheless, fewer than 20 states make adults criminally liable for allowing kids to have access to guns, and the NRA continues to market some of its products specifically to children.
“America’s pediatricians remain undeterred and united in our desire to see significant policy change to address this public health crisis,” the group of doctors writes.