It is my twin girls’ last day of first grade. They run out to me so proud, beaming with excitement for the start of the summer. Their arms open and inviting. I hug them so tight. I do not want to let them go. To them, I am their proud mom excited for them to enjoy their summer filled with ice cream, swimming, and play dates with friends. Through them I see the faces of the children who were equally proud and excited for summer. The ones that will never have an opportunity to run to their parents and loved ones at the end of the school year. I hold my kids so tight. Thankful that they are alive.
My children are clueless to my thoughts and worries. I have not told them about the events that occurred several days ago. How do I tell them? As a pediatrician, I am all about safety lessons. “Wear your bike helmet or you could get hurt.” “Do not swim without a parent present or you could drown.” “Put your seatbelt on, we might get into an accident.” My kids have become so accustomed to my safety rules that these statements are usually followed by an eyeroll. This time, there is no safety lesson here. How can they prevent this senseless act?
I recognize my voice is coming from a place of privilege. My children are not aware of the gun violence that happens daily in this country. I do not have to fear my children being shot on the way to school or playing in the yard with their friends.
Unfortunately, these gut wrenching feelings I am experiencing today ring true for a lot of families, not just after tragic mass shootings, but every day. Every day, gun violence is taking the lives of our children. It is the number one cause of death for children and young adults in the United States. For the first time, it surpassed car accidents in 2020 to become the number one cause of death for our children. Our communities are failing them. This is a public health crisis.
As a physician, I have seen far too much trauma associated with gun violence. Over 45,000 people died by firearms in the United States in 2020. More than double this amount are injured by firearms every year. We need to act. We need to vote in candidates who believe in common sense gun policies. Push for universal background checks on all firearm purchases, ban on assault rifles, national safe storage laws, national extreme risk protection laws to prevent dangerous people from purchasing or keeping firearms, and funding for community based violence interventions.
We must improve public awareness and education on the importance of safe storage of firearms in homes where children are present. This means storing the firearm locked, unloaded, and storing ammunition separately. Research has shown this leads to a significant decreased risk for unintentional injury and suicide in children. We also know that almost 80% of school shooters obtain the gun from their home or the home of a relative. Preventing children’s access to guns should be a priority.
I hope to be able to live in the moment with my children again. To feel the joy and excitement they are feeling on their last day of school. We can and should do more for our children. Their lives are literally depending on us.
Kelly Henry MD
Doctors for America Vice Chair of Community Health and Prevention
Moms Demand Action Volunteer