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Pediatricians submit testimonials on gun violence to Congress; AAP urges action on bipartisan gun safety measures

June 15, 2022

In her testimony during a Senate committee hearing on gun violence Wednesday morning, AAP President Moira A. Szilagyi, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP, urged committee members to read stories she submitted to the Congressional Record from more than 300 pediatricians illustrating how gun violence has impacted their patients, communities and lives, and called for passage of bipartisan legislation to keep children safe.

Pediatricians’ testimonials included heart-wrenching accounts of patients who have been victims of gun violence and gripping examples of the trauma caused by exposure to gun violence.

“The number of pediatricians who took the time to tell their stories is a true testament to how profoundly gun violence impacts children and how extensively it has transformed our profession,” Dr. Szilagyi said. “These stories span 40 states, touch on specialties ranging from surgery to neonatology, and collectively demonstrate that the doctors who care for children injured and killed by guns are themselves forever shaped by gun violence.”

Dr. Szilagyi’s appearance at the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s hearing on “Protecting America’s Children from Gun Violence” comes less than a month after a gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

A study released earlier this year revealed that firearm-related injuries have surpassed motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of death for U.S. youths ages 0-19.

Dr. Szilagyi urged action on a package agreed to by a group of 20 senators that includes new federal investments in mental health and school security, money to help states implement extreme risk protection order (“red-flag”) laws and enhanced background checks.

“Too many previous efforts to enact real solutions have failed. We owe it to our children to make this time the exception,” Dr. Szilagyi said. “I implore you all to continue to work together to finalize and pass a bipartisan comprehensive legislative package to address gun violence.

“… While this framework represents a significant step forward, it is only the start of what we truly need to protect children,” she added.

Following are excerpts from AAP members’ testimonials.

“I have looked into the terrified eyes of many children after they’ve been shot and tried to comfort them,” wrote Halden F. Scott, M.D., FAAP, associate professor of pediatrics-emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “I tell them they’re in a safe place now, that we’re going to take care of them, while around them our ER staff moves quickly, cutting off clothes, placing IVs, assessing the injuries, treating pain and doing our best to minimize the damage after the injury occurred. The feeling of their scared eyes, locked on mine, when I tell them they’re safe is a feeling I don’t forget. They desperately want an adult to take care of them. I tell them they’re in a safe place now, but in my heart, I don’t know if they are.”

Madeline Joseph, M.D., FAAP, AAP Chapter X chair and professor of the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at University of Florida Health in Jacksonville, recounted treating a 6-year-old, who along with his brother, found their father’s gun and “pretended to play war.” The 6-year-old ultimately died.

“The (surviving) child kept crying hysterically, refusing to separate from his dead brother,” Dr. Joseph wrote. “The parents were agonized for the child who died and their other child who will carry the guilt of killing his brother for life.”

Nancy Heavilin, M.D., FAAP, a primary care pediatrician in Somers Point, N.J., recounted how active shooter drills at a local school traumatized an 8-year-old patient.

“Ever since she went through active shooter ‘run, hide, fight’ drills at her elementary school, she has experienced nightmares,” Dr. Heavilin said. “She cannot sleep in her own bed. She cannot sleep with the lights off. She cries nearly every day when her mother waves goodbye to her from the bus stop because she is scared it will be the last time she ever sees her mom.”


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