Another morning, another mass shooting: America needs firearm safety laws
A physicians’ group advocates for measures including an assault weapons ban
The Covenant School, where seven people, including the shooter, died in a mass shooting in Nashville, Tenn. on Monday March 27, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
I woke Thursday morning to headlines that have become all too familiar: another mass shooting in America, this one in Lewiston, Maine, as residents enjoyed a night bowling and playing cornhole. It’s become so common that many of us are jaded, desensitized, or numb. When many of us hear this news, we think “oh no, not again” and then carry on with our days as if this is normal. Unfortunately it has, but it should not be.
It should not be normal for someone to purchase a weapon of war without any permitting process, background check, safety training or cooling off period. It should not be normal for parents to have to bury their children after they’ve been shot at school. It should not be normal for people to fear for their safety in churches, synagogues, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, schools, grocery stores and bowling alleys.
Many people hearing the news about this latest mass shooting will think to themselves that this is just the price for freedom in America, that the Second Amendment guarantees the rights for anyone to own any gun at any time, no matter how many lives are lost as a result.
But every mass shooting generates more lives affected by gun violence and more gun safety advocates. We saw this happen after the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. Thousands of heartbroken parents, students and teachers marched to the Tennessee Capitol and demanded our legislators do something to prevent more tragedies. Unfortunately our pleas fell on deaf ears.
Because getting even the most modest firearm safety legislation passed here in Tennessee with the current gerrymandered extreme supermajority in place seems impossible, I headed to Washington, DC two weeks ago to lobby at the federal level. On Oct. 19, I joined a group of physician firearm safety advocates — #OnCall4Kids — in a national grassroots movement of pediatric healthcare providers focused on reducing firearm injuries through federal firearm safety legislation.
#OnCall4Kids, a highly motivated and organized group of doctors, put out a call for other doctors and healthcare workers nationwide and I was one of the many who answered. The day I joined them was their third advocacy day in Congress. Over 100 physicians and other healthcare workers from 26 states had meetings with more than 60 lawmakers or their representatives. Together we advocated for three pieces of legislation proven by data to reduce deaths and injuries from firearms.
- Background Check Expansion Act, S.494/Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2023, HR.715. This legislation would close loopholes in the background check system that let people purchase firearms without a background check, something that as of 2015 was still happening in 22% of all gun purchases. There is broad support across the country with 81% of people surveyed supporting background checks for every gun purchase. One study showed that pediatric mortality was decreased by 35% in states with universal background check laws.
- Ethan’s Law, S.173/HR.660. This bill ensures that owners store their firearms safely and responsibly, ensuring that children and teens are unable to access them. As many as 60% of gun owners surveyed reported storing their firearms unlocked and hidden. When adolescents were surveyed, one in five reported having access to an unlocked firearm in their home. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all firearms in homes with children be stored unloaded, locked with ammunition locked away separately. A modeling study showed that if half of households with firearms changed to storing their firearms safely, about 250 youth suicide and unintentional deaths would be prevented every year. Over 60% of Tennesseans support safe storage laws, according to a Vanderbilt Poll.
- Assault Weapons Ban (S.25 / H.R.698). While the U.S. had a ban on assault weapons from 1994-2004, there was a 70% decrease in mass shooting deaths. Since it expired, mass shootings and deaths from them have increased: there was a 183% increase in mass shootings and a 239% increase in deaths in the first 10 years after the ban expired.
As I went with my pediatric colleagues from meeting to meeting in Senate and House office buildings, I felt hopeful because doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers took time out of their busy lives to travel to the nation’s Capital and speak with authority on firearm safety. And because we have the knowledge, expertise and data to back up our positions on these bills. The movement is growing: every time the #OnCall4Kids coalition sends out their call for advocates, its numbers increase.
I’ve heard other advocates say that eventually gun violence will touch nearly every household in America. I’m worried that if things continue on their current course, that sentiment will become reality. But if it does, my fellow physician firearm safety advocates and I stand ready to welcome them with open arms. Together, we will continue the slow, steady march toward firearm safety in the US.
Because we shouldn’t have to wake up every morning to these tragedies — specially when there is data proving that firearm safety laws can save lives.
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