Even though it wasn’t a new problem, like many people back in 2011, I was shocked by the horrific shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. I became more involved when my son was in kindergarten and I bought him a glow in the dark dinosaur t shirt. His reaction wasn’t quite the excitement I had hoped for; instead he said “Mommy I can’t wear that to school because we do drills where we have to hide in the dark, in the corner from the bad people with the guns. If I am wearing the shirt, it might glow and the bad people with guns might see me”. Clearly, a 5-year-old should not have to think that way. I decided that was enough and I needed to do more. So, in addition to my role as a mom, citizen and advocate, I began to use my professional role as a pediatrician to add to the limited research (given federal funding restrictions) in this area. The Be SMART campaign is particularly promising because it is non-partisan and focuses on finding ways to keep children safe from guns in a non-judgmental way. I have given several lectures and workshops for fellow pediatricians around the country about ways pediatric providers can improve gun safety and I have published a review article on this topic as well. I hope that by doing this research we can protect kids from gun violence and that in future generations, a 5-year-old might only think of a glow in the dark t shirt as just a “cool” glow in the dark t shirt.
I became interested in gun violence when I was a fellow in adolescent medicine. During my first year of fellowship, the Sandy Hook massacre happened, and it had a huge impact on me. Long after the news had turned its attention elsewhere and public interest in gun reform was starting to wane, I remained completely devastated that so many young children could be killed so needlessly. I started to read about gun violence both in the lay press and in the scientific literature, and realized that it was an adolescent health issue above all else, given the number of teens that die from gun homicide in urban areas, and gun suicide in rural areas. I started to devote more and more of my academic time to studying this issue and thinking about it from a public health perspective. I published on the issue of gun violence prevention, both in local newspapers and in peer-reviewed journals such as JAMA Pediatrics. I also became involved in Be SMART, a non-legislative campaign to promote safe gun practices in the homes of children. The Inpatient Firearms Study is a chance for me to study the Be SMART campaign to see if it has a long-lasting impact on gun safety practices.
I have worked extensively to reduce preventable harm in children. Our first charge as physicians, and as a society is to “do no harm,” but unfortunately both medical care and our world often do not live up to this maxim. For this reason I have worked diligently through various other successful grant-funded research projects to reduce medical errors that hurt some of our most vulnerable patients. My involvement in this project is an extension of that work, attempting to reduce and eliminate harm from firearms in children.
On December 14, 2012, I had a very typical stressful parenting morning with my 7, 5 and 3 year olds running about. What I remember most about that morning was how my daughter ran off to the bus with us yelling at one another because she didn’t like any of the tights she had to wear and I just wanted her dressed and out the door. When I later heard about the 20 children, so close in age to mine, tragically shot and killed that day, I couldn’t stop imagining what their last mornings were like with their families. Since that day, despite the chaos around us, I have always said goodbye to the children in a loving way every morning, with a fear inside that they might be taken from me at any moment. As a parent, I hate this fear. As a family, we talk all the time about seatbelts, helmets, healthy and safe choices for what goes into our bodies, kindness and reaching out to those who are lonely and in need. But, as a pediatrician, I believe we need to do all this and more to keep children safe from firearms. One major step to help increase safety for children will be to conduct actual research into gun safety and firearm injury prevention. I am part of this study to further this science.
This project aims to study whether using the Be SMART video and handouts helps improve what parents/guardians of hospitalized children know, believe and put into practice about gun safety and ways to keep kids safe from gun violence. We will specifically determine if after watching this video, parents/guardians are more likely to ask about guns in the homes of others where there children go to spend time. We will use a video, handouts and face-to-face discussion with a pediatrician to try to address the issue of gun safety.
Why is this important?
Each year in the United States, about 5800 children are injured due to gun related injuries and 1300 children die as a result of gun violence. These number of children victims of gun related injuries exceed those in any other developed country and while these numbers have decreased in other countries since the 1990s, the rates of children killed or injured as a result of gunshot injuries has remained stable in the US.
The Be SMART campaign was developed to promote ways to keep children safer from guns.
While previous research examined efforts in the emergency department and office setting, to date, no studies have assessed using the time that children are hospitalized as an opportunity to talk to parents/guardians about gun safety.
Sadly, since the Dickey Amendment in 1996, federal funding for gun violence prevention research has been restricted, therefore relying on private funding critical to do this type of research to keep kids safe.
Who will benefit?
The pediatric patients who are hospitalized (and potentially any other children living in the same household) will benefit directly by improving gun safety in their homes and lives. Indirectly, the data from this study aims to find a way to more broadly keep children safe from gun violence.