Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pediatricians and guns

I was listening to NPR the other morning as I was getting ready for work, and I heard about the Supreme Court decision regarding Washington DC's gun restrictions. I immediately started thinking about the AAP reaction to this news, and sure enough, there was already an email news alert waiting for me in my inbox when I got to work.

I live in an area where many, if not most, people have guns at home; in fact, I suspect my entire AAP district, district VIII, has a fairly high gun ownership rate, as it includes Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Hawaii (although I honestly know little about gun ownership there). Some of my patients hunt regularly with their parents, and other families keep guns for protection. I address the topic daily, using any teachable moment I can to ascertain which families are aware of gun safety, and which are not. I cringe when I hear about the loaded gun under the pillow. Any gun in the home is a potential weapon, a tool for suicide, altogether a danger.

During medical school and residency, I took care of several children who were the victims of accidental shootings. One teenager in particular comes to mind. He and his brother, who were well-versed in gun safety and had various guns of their own, decided to clean their dad's shotgun as a surprise to him. Unfortunately, there was a shell in the chamber, and in the process of cleaning, the one brother accidentally shot his brother's eye out, nearly killing him in the process. Their parents were horrified at the carelessness of the one boy because they had taught them about gun safety, but they were home alone, unsupervised.

This was a tragic accident. I feel strongly that, even with "trained" children at home, guns should be kept in a safe that only the adults have access to. In other words, we should try to eliminate access to guns in unsupervised situations, although I am aware that accidents also happen when an adult is present. I also believe that there are types of guns that should not be sold to private citizens. However, what irks me about this whole issue is that children are exposed to many dangers all the time, and we don't have that knee jerk reaction that we have with guns. We've all had parents tell us that they would never have a gun in the home because it's not safe, yet they smoke in the home and allow their children to get out of their carseat because "they just won't stay in;" these are all potentially detrimental to the health of their child, and I try to make that point with the families.

I suppose that my point is that we, as adults, need to protect our children by putting them in car seats, by locking up guns, by feeding them healthful foods, by locking up the bleach, by immunizing them, etc. I know nobody disagrees on this point, I just wish that we would put as much effort into some of the less obvious dangers that they face as well!

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