As gun safety advocates, we are fighting every day for policies and legislation to tackle gun violence, a national epidemic that is the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. Gun violence is a driver of significant racial health inequities in the US, with Black youth burdened by a firearm homicide rate 14 times higher than their white (non-Latino) peers.
Moms Demand Action was formed in 2012 to push for gun safety legislation in state houses across the country and in Congress. Although our movement is running strong, with our grassroots army of concerned mothers, survivors, gun owners, faith leaders, and veterans, we need everyone in this fight alongside us. Pediatricians in particular are essential in our quest to prevent gun violence.
Pediatricians ask young patients and their caregivers questions about tobacco use, seat belt use, and other safety practices to ensure that they can grow up to be as healthy as possible. Yet, in our polarized political environment, health care professionals often shy away from asking questions about firearms that could help us keep young patients and their families safe. In fact, the percentage of pediatricians who report that they are comfortable asking about firearms in the home during patient encounters has decreased over time. That silence has a cost. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2019 illustrate that firearm injuries have surpassed motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of death among youth ages 0–19. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis with an increase in hospitalizations for firearm injuries among children and teens (ages 0–18).
We need pediatricians to get involved in the fight to end gun violence. Pediatricians are incredibly effective child health advocates and public health messengers, and prevention is the cornerstone of the profession. When pediatricians speak up, people listen. Pediatricians have a platform—and the magnitude of the gun violence crisis in the US demands that pediatricians use that platform and lend their informed, expert, powerful voices to this cause.
We encourage pediatricians to initiate educational interventions with their patients, to share their expertise by advocating for evidence-based gun safety legislation and increased federal funding to support gun violence prevention research, and to help reduce youth access to unsecured firearms.
Secure Storage Counseling
This life-saving work starts in pediatricians’ examination rooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that the safest home for a child is a home without a firearm. But due to the high rate of gun ownership in this country and the prevalence of unsecured firearms in homes with children, AAP recommends that pediatricians routinely screen all patients for firearms and provide secure storage counseling during patient encounters. Secure firearm storage—keeping firearms unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition—is an effective way to reduce risk of unintentional shootings and suicides among youth. Brief secure storage counseling, coupled with storage or firearm locking devices, has been shown to effectively increase secure storage behavior in the home.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the parent organization of Moms Demand Action, developed the AAP-aligned Be SMART program to provide evidence-informed, adult education promoting secure firearm storage. Pediatricians have used the Be SMART program to increase the frequency of firearm screening and secure storage counseling in the primary care setting. In this single-center study, firearm screening during well-child checks increased from 3 percent to more than 75 percent through a series of interventions, including pediatric resident education, provision of Be SMART materials and gun locks, and the addition of a prompt to the electronic health record. There are Be SMART volunteers in all 50 states who are eager to partner with pediatricians to promote gun safety in the home—and to provide support to pediatricians who feel nervous or inadequately prepared to have these conversations with families.
Gun Violence Prevention Legislative Advocacy
This work requires us to go beyond doctors’ offices, however, and to speak out in a way that is heard in state houses and Congress. Moms Demand Action and the AAP support background checks on all gun sales, secure storage laws (which hold adults who fail to secure guns liable when minors access those guns), assault weapons prohibitions, extreme risk protection orders (which temporarily remove firearm access from a person a court finds is at risk of harming themselves or others), and expanded funding for gun violence research. It is not broadly understood that there has been significant progress on gun safety laws in the states, but today, there are background check laws in 21 states and the District of Columbia; extreme risk protection orders in 19 states and D.C.; and secure storage laws in…