Gun violence takes terrible toll on kids too

emergency-300x199As the nation struggles with grief from the latest mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, new research shows how grievous the mayhem that guns cause for the young, with weapons injuries over nine years sending 75,000 children and teen-agers to emergency rooms at a cost of almost $3 billion.

The Associated Press reported that researchers at Johns Hopkins found in their published study that:

[M]ore than one-third of the wounded children were hospitalized, and 6 percent died. Injuries declined during most of the 2006-14 study, but there was an upswing in the final year. … 11 of every 100,000 children and teens treated in U.S. emergency rooms have gun-related injuries. That amounts to about 8,300 kids each year. The scope of the problem is broader though; the study doesn’t include kids killed or injured by gunshots who never made it to the hospital, nor does it count costs for gunshot patients after they’re sent home.

Based on their university-funded analysis of federal data on ER visits, the researchers found half the young treated had suffered gun wounds in assaults, 40 percent of which were intentional and 2 percent suicide attempts. Boys and young men were shot far more frequently than girls and young women.

The study results, experts quoted by the AP, were important for at least two reasons: The prevalence of injuries shows why fear among the young about guns may be on the rise. This data adds to what public health advocates hope will be a growing body of independent, nonpartisan, fact-based evidence that can help regulators and lawmakers better decide what to do about guns, which proponents say they have a Second Amendment right to own.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services but also the damage that can be wreaked on them by defective and dangerous products, including and especially firearms. The constitutional rights of gun owners need to be respected. At the same time, the violence and carnage caused by guns, especially in the hands of unstable perpetrators of mass shootings, is unacceptable and must be stopped. Our leaders, especially our commander-in-chief, must temper their tone and reckon with the harms that result when they do not.

We also must speed up our acceptance of the notion that guns pose a public health hazard — and they can be dealt with in this correct way, starting with cold, hard evidence about weapons and their benefits, harms, and best ways to ensure they’re in the hands only of those competent, rational, and safe to potentially use and enjoy them.

Guns aren’t magical. They have been lethal instruments in at least 56 deaths in mass shootings in 2018 alone. The Washington Post estimates there have been 157 mass shootings in the 50 years since a gunman climbed in a Texas tower and began firing on a crowd below. Such incidents have claimed more than 1,100 lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallies more than 36,000 gun deaths annually, though that number also includes suicides, estimated at 20,000 or so.

That’s a problem now in the nation’s gun nightmare — the lack of independent, nonpartisan, reliable data. Republicans in Congress long have blocked federal agencies from gun research, now being more permissible but failing to provide funding. It’s good to see Johns Hopkins step up, as have organizations like the RAND Corporation.

We can make progress on this problem — and we can take inspiration from Pittsburgh caregivers in doing so. Not only did they respond with admirable calm and professionalism in caring for an onrush of victims, the doctors and nurses held to their highest medical standards in also treating the wounded shooter. That so many caregivers of the Jewish faith could assist someone who had attacked a synagogue while spouting anti-Semitic hate speech and killing 11 worshippers is a testament to them, their tested practice of tenets of their religion, and their medical skills.

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