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4.07.2015

Editorial in Pediatrics Sheds Light on Adolescent Firearm Violence

More than 32,000 fatal and 84,000 nonfatal shootings occurred in the United States in 2013, and among those were 48 children aged 19 or younger each day. Those numbers set the tone for the editorial “Prevent Youth Assault by Assaulting Firearm Violence” written by Judy Schaechter, M.D., M.B.A., for the April issue of Pediatrics.

In the editorial, which is a commentary on another article in the journal, Schaechter, associate professor and Interim Chair of Pediatrics, highlights not only the tragedy of those directly involved in or injured by a shooting, but also the emotional distress endured by siblings, cousins, friends and classmates of shooting victims, which often leads to further gun violence.

“Too many feel scared and alone,” Schaechter writes. “A portion will arm themselves for ‘protection.’ Thus, our children will be terribly harmed or will do terrible harm, or both, largely as a result of easy access to firearms.”

Authors of the accompanying article suggest that the first incident of violence can be a teachable moment. However, Schaechter and co-author Eliot W. Nelson, M.D., of the University of Vermont, counter that the patients in the original study highlight their high-risk tendencies, indicating intervention is necessary prior to the first firearm incident, “aiming for the adults responsible for access to firearms and the social norms that contribute to violence.”

Schaechter and Nelson argue that American youth are not more violent by nature than other adolescents around the world. Instead, they are reared in a culture of violence and firearm accessibility that provides opportunity for assault victimization, injury and secondary perpetration. One way to challenge that cultural norm is through an expanded physician role in the gun rights discussion, such as asking when a child shoots or is shot: “Where did the gun come from?”

Instead of just “standing your ground,” as many state laws allow, adults can teach children to “share our ground.” And that could begin with pediatricians finding ways to encourage healthier social norms.

“As advocates for health, physicians have a responsibility to speak up to save lives,” Schaechter says. “That discussion may be about limiting access to a weapon in a home, but it also extends to increased access due to sales without background checks, to straw purchases, to gun-trafficking and to removing restrictions on firearm research.”

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