“How are you sleeping?”
A simple question. One that I ask all of my patients.
“Well,” a soft-spoken teenager went on to explain, “A boy in my class shot himself. I saw it happen and now I’m having nightmares.”
As an Austin pediatrician, this response did not surprise me. I see the physical and emotional consequences of firearm violence every day in our community. Most of these stories do not make the news.
We have long known that firearm injury is one of the top three causes of death among youth; causing twice as many deaths as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 15 times as many as infections. And now, based on a study released this week from the American Academy of Pediatrics, we have more evidence showing that strict firearm safety legislation can save lives.
Even when accounting for other variables, states with strict firearm safety laws have lower rates of death from firearm- related injury. Full stop. It’s time to stop arguing about whether legislation works.
This study specifically looked at legislation requiring universal background checks for firearm purchase, universal background checks for ammunition purchase, and identification requirement for firearms. Texas has some of the weakest firearm safety laws in the nation and because of this, it is not surprising that over 3,000 Texans die from firearm injury every single year.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to talk to many Texas legislators about the importance of firearm safety legislation. In one notable encounter, I visited my legislator to share the story of a 3-year-old who had accidentally shot himself in his kitchen with his father’s handgun.
As I waited for my appointment, a group walked past me wearing shirts that read “Protect My Guns.”
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At the end of the conversation that day, my legislator looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve had dozens of people come in to this office to talk about guns. I have hundreds of voicemail messages and even more emails − all about guns. You are the first person to talk about firearm injury in children.”
His point was that this problem did not matter.
We spend a lot of time in Texas protecting things that seem a whole lot less important to me than children’s lives.
Texas is home to over 7.3 million children. This means more than 10% of all children in the United States call Texas home. We have the opportunity and responsibility to protect these kids. Texas can and should be a leader in child health policy.
To do this we need to think critically about how “protecting guns” is harming our children.
This study is a call to action during the interim session to revisit firearm safety legislation and urge our legislators to propose legislation that, at a minimum, requires universal background checks for firearm and ammunition purchase, and mandates an identification requirement for firearms.
If we do, maybe fewer kids will need to tell me about their nightmares when I ask them how they are sleeping.