June 18, 2013
By Karen Sheehan, MD
From Saturday afternoon until Father’s Day morning, six men were killed by firearms and over two dozen people were shot. Instead of attending barbecues or family picnics, these victims’ loved ones are planning funerals and spent the day at area hospitals.
Looking back over the last decade, in the United States, 29,331 children and adolescents, 0 to 19 years, were killed by firearms; that’s a shameful number of balls that will never thrown or piggy back rides that will never be given.
Recently, the Child Health Data Lab released a data brief which focuses on firearm injuries to children and adolescents in Illinois. Key findings are:
- From 2000 to 2010, firearm fatalities in Hispanic youth in Illinois have decreased appreciably; among African-American youth in Illinois, firearm fatalities have increased.
- Homicide/assault made up 85% of fatalities, 60% of non-fatal hospitalizations and 72% of non-fatal ED visits due to firearms.
- The vast majority of injuries due to firearms, both fatal and non-fatal, among Illinois youth and adolescents occurred among 15- to 19-year-olds.
These facts make beg the question “why?” The answer is, we have no idea. Research on gun violence has been thwarted for at least two decades. However, this seems to be changing. As part of his response to the mass shooting in Newtown, President Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders directing federal agencies to improve our understanding of the causes of firearm violence and what can be done to prevent it. This lead to the Institute of Medicine’s recent report “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm Related Violence.” The proposed research agenda recommends using a public health approach (which has been useful in decreasing deaths from tobacco and motor vehicle crashes) and to focus on the characteristics of firearm violence, risk and protective factors, interventions and strategies, the impact of gun safety technology, and the influence of video games and other media.
Studying how to prevent the threat of firearm related injury is not a political issue — it is a health issue; it’s a father (and mother) issue as well.
Dr. Karen Sheehan is a general pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. After taking care of kids who fell from windows, or were shot, or were hit by cars, it occurred to her that it would be better to prevent such injuries in the first place. She now focuses on prevention and maximizing a child’s health and well-being.