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What Pediatricians Can Do to Keep Children Safe From Guns :

August 9, 2017

Editor's note: The 2017 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Sept. 16-19 in Chicago.

The statistics are sobering:

  • On average, seven children and teens die each day from gun violence, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • About 40 are shot every day and survive, including 32 who are assaulted, eight who are shot unintentionally and one who attempts suicide.
  • Nearly 1.7 million children live in a home with a gun that is unlocked and loaded.

Behind each of these statistics is a child — someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister or friend.

“It is critical not to lose sight of the personal nature of these events,” said J Gary Wheeler, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on State Government Affairs.

The Academy is committed to making stories of youths gunned down or taking their own lives with a firearm a thing of the past. Dr. Wheeler will highlight the Academy’s advocacy work at the state and federal levels as well as what pediatricians can do to keep children safe during a plenary session titled “Gun Safety: An American Crisis (P2083)” from 10:45-11:05 am Sunday, Sept. 17.

“The battle to protect kids around the issue of gun safety requires that we all get in for the long run and become active at the local, state and federal levels,” Dr. Wheeler said.

Although attitudes about guns differ throughout the country, few will dispute that safety is paramount, Dr. Wheeler said.

“Where I am from, Arkansas, many families own guns for hunting and sports purposes, while in other parts of the country, you will find fewer families who own guns,” he said. “Still, almost all regions agree that safety is a goal. How that goal is achieved is sometimes the divisive issue.”

There have been some recent successes at the state level, including passage of ballot initiatives in 2016 to strengthen existing gun laws in three out of four states (California, Nevada and Washington) where they were considered, said Dr. Wheeler, chief medical officer of the Arkansas Department of Health.

In February, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a 2012 ruling that blocked enforcement of a law that would have restricted physicians from counseling families on firearms ownership and storage. “The court’s 10-1 decision will hopefully stop other states from considering similar legislation,” he said.

According to the Academy, the most reliable and effective way to prevent firearm-related deaths and injuries in children and adolescents is to keep guns out of children’s homes and communities. However, if parents choose to own firearms, they should keep them unloaded and locked, with ammunition locked separately. Studies show that individuals who are counseled by a physician are more likely to report the adoption of one or more safe gun-storage practices.

“The biggest challenge for the Academy is advocating for stronger gun laws and changing social norms around safe storage of firearms without being seen as an organization that wants to take the guns away,” Dr. Wheeler said. “Focusing on kids is absolutely necessary to build a common ground for conversations with Second Amendment advocates.”

Dr. Wheeler also will present “Gun Safety: Time for Common Sense” from 8:30-10:00 am Monday, Sept. 18 (S3049) and 8:30-10:00 am Tuesday, Sept. 19 (S4032). This session will explore firearms safety in greater detail, including the efficacy of specific interventions such as trigger locks, clinical and community educational efforts, and legislation across the 50 states.

Follow Dr. Wheeler on Twitter @jgarywheeler1.

For more stories on educational sessions and events at the 2017 AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, visit To register for the conference, visit

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