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Pediatric Trauma Surgeon Urges Public Health Focus On Gun Deaths

As of 2020, guns surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death in the U.S. for children, reports Vox. The rate of child firearm death spiked 42 percent in the last two decades, says the Kaiser Family Foundation. While school shootings, like the one at the Covenant School in Nashville this week that resulted in the deaths of three children and three adults, get global attention, they are only a small part of the gun violence issue. The overwhelming majority of kids who die by guns are victims of homicide in their homes and communities, suicides, or unintentional injury. Black children are disproportionately represented in the population of those killed. The rate of gun suicides among kids has been rising, too. Dr. Chethan Sathya, a pediatric trauma surgeon and the director of Northwell Health’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, has treated children for gunshot wounds and has made ending gun violence a central focus of his career.

Gun wounds are significantly more lethal for children, Dr. Sathya said. Unlike adults who have protection from muscles or abdominal fat, children's bodies are smaller, resulting in their vital organs being closer together. "One bullet can cause catastrophic injury to organs, and in many cases, it’s stuff that we can’t even repair," Dr. Sathya said. To combat rising gun violence, Dr. Sathya urges a public health approach. While safe storage laws and simple background checks may help stop mass shootings, suicides, and unintentional injuries, those tools may not stop overall firearm violence that disproportionately affects Black and brown communities. "We need a more robust approach to tackle root causes when it comes to firearm violence, like structural racism. We need more support for violence prevention programs," Dr. Sathya said. He called for public health policies like "red flag" laws, better background checks, licensing requirements, and waiting periods for gun purchases. "Then there are ways to make guns themselves safer, smart gun technology ... but there’s no impetus to move forward" because of the federal law that prevents gun makers from being held liable, Dr. Sathya said.


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