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Store-it-Safe T-shirts and gun cable locks pictured

The AAP’s GSIVP grant helped provide "Store It Safe" T-shirts and gun cable locks to Safe Kids Greater Grand Rapids of Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Michigan. Courtesy of Jodie Westra.

AAP grants kick-start gun violence prevention programs in 10 communities

June 1, 2024

Kelly Huggett, M.D., FAAP, had been working toward a violence prevention screening program at her hospital system but was unable to secure enough funding.

Enter the AAP Gun Safety, Injury, and Violence Prevention Community Grant Program (GSIVP).

“It was a game-changer for us,” said Dr. Huggett, of Corewell Health in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I’m so grateful that the AAP is invested in us — those of us in the trenches trying to figure out, ‘How do we do this?’”

Corewell Health was among 10 sites chosen from 132 applicants to receive grants of $15,000 each. Sites with disproportionately high rates of violence, gun-related deaths and health inequities took priority in the selection process. Other grantees included the AAP Georgia Chapter and California Chapter 4 (Orange County), four community-based organizations and three health departments.

With funding from the AAP Friends of Children Fund, the grants financed the distribution of more than 1,900 gun locks, firearm safety training, community events, webinars, social media campaigns, public service announcements and educational materials in multiple languages to spread gun safety messaging. The AAP also credits GSIVP with the completion of 108 concealed-carry courses.

“I was really impressed with how customized all the programs were for their local environments,” said Lois K. Lee, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.

The wide range of programs also included community relief and support. The Youth Violence Intervention Program at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., used GSIVP funding to buy grocery gift cards and transit vouchers for families of children affected by community violence. Chicago’s Urban Male Network mentorship program provided professional counseling to its members after one of their own was shot and killed and another lost a friend to gun violence.

Those deaths, as well as a hospital-system shooting and other firearm-related incidents at GSIVP sites during the nine-month funding period, underline the need for gun safety education and violence prevention.

“Everyone is impacted by gun violence. Everyone,” Dr. Huggett said.

Her hospital system used its grant to train more than 1,100 physicians, social workers and support staff under the Safe Kids Greater Grand Rapids/Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital umbrella on gun safety, screening and counseling.

“We didn’t make it mandatory, but … we said if 80% of the providers at that particular site did the training, then they would get free T-shirts that say, ‘Store It Safe,’ and they would get free gun locks for their particular site,” Dr. Huggett said.

The AAP summary report on the grant program showed that 86% of the system’s physicians in ZIP codes with the highest rates of firearm injuries completed the training.

Hundreds of staff members donned the orange shirts, and 268 gun locks were distributed to workers and community members on June 2, 2023 — National Gun Violence Awareness Day. More than 600 additional locks have been given out since, according to Jodie Westra, injury prevention coordinator at Safe Kids Greater Grand Rapids.

“I feel like we’re now able to more widely disperse information about what we’re doing and hopefully get other organizations on board, not just in the state of Michigan, but nationally,” Dr. Huggett said of GSIVP’s impact.

Engaging with the community

In Cudahy, Wis., one of those organizations is an indoor shooting range that opened last December.

The Cudahy Health Department used its grant to provide “Talk Saves Lives” training from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as part of the gun range’s onboarding process for new employees.

“Our community is already struggling with adverse mental health and risk of suicide and self-harm, so we wanted to make sure we got ahead of the game,” said Teresa Ortiz, M.P.H., Cudahy’s public health manager. “We’re not promoting the gun range, we’re really there to ensure that their staff and their clients have the resources that they need to keep themselves safe and healthy.”

The health department continues to distribute free cable locks as part of gun safety kits that include mental health resources and safety tips. It also gave out gun locks last year at an event held by a restorative practice program at Cudahy High School.

“It was a really beautiful event,” Ortiz said. “They had programming, they had music, they had the youth talking about their concerns and their issues. So that’s a relationship that we’ll continue to engage in.”

Continuing the dialogue

Although firearms are the leading cause of death among U.S. youth ages 1-19, parents may not expect to hear their child’s pediatrician talk about guns and may be resistant to the conversation.

“I always say just start with a conversation about safety,” Dr. Lee said. “Depending on the age of your child, you’ll be worried about different things that might harm your child. But starting with talking about something less controversial, like car safety, medication safety and then going into firearm safety is usually what I recommend.”

Dr. Huggett looks for common ground when approaching the subject with parents.

“The way I phrase the question is, ‘If there are firearms in your house, are they stored in a locked gun safe with the ammunition stored separately?’” she said. “If I get any hesitation, I then pause and say to the parents, ‘I just want you to know that the reason I’m asking this question is simply because guns are now the No. 1 cause of death in children. Were you aware of that?’ If you find that common ground, that really makes the parent pause.”

Normalizing those conversations and the role of doctors, hospitals, health departments, community organizations and AAP chapters in promoting firearm safety are essential to projects like those funded by the GSIVP in achieving their goals.

Action steps recommended in the Academy’s report on the program include promoting cross-sector collaborations on gun safety and injury prevention efforts, developing educational materials for families and professionals, promoting AAP gun safety resources and obtaining funding from the Academy and through AAP partnerships to continue and expand the grant program.

“Grants like this are really, really important,” Ortiz said. “Even a $10,000 grant can really make a huge impact on a department with the size of ours for our community.”

GSIVP grants also were awarded to the Antifragility Initiative at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s in Cleveland; the City of New Orleans Health Department in Louisiana; Humboldt County Public Health in Eureka, Calif.; and Kings Against Violence Initiative in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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