A few years ago, I was working in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, when I admitted a 5-year-old boy who had found his father's loaded gun on the kitchen counter, picked it up, and shot himself in the head.
For the month that I cared for him, he was mostly comatose and intubated, and a few days into his hospitalization, his heart started failing so we had to connect him to a machine that acted as an artificial heart, in a process called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
At this point in his care he was so covered in tubes and other medical devices that it was difficult to even see his small body in the hospital bed underneath it all, and even more difficult to imagine him as the young boy in the pictures around his bed who was playing soccer, hiking and laughing with his family.
Though it has been highly politicized, gun violence is a public health issue that demands public and government action. Here are the facts:
Among U.S. adolescents 15 to 19 years old, gun homicides are the second leading cause of death; gun suicides are the third. About 3,000 children die of gun violence each year, and more than 7,000 children are hospitalized, half of whom will be discharged with a disability. Gun violence costs the United States more than $17 billion per year. Today, seven children will wake up ready for a normal day, and be shot and killed.
Despite these stark statistics, many Americans keep guns in their home, oftentimes in the belief that doing so makes them safer. The evidence paints a different picture. Guns in the home increase the risk of homicide 300% and suicide by 500%, and are 22 times more likely to be used in domestic homicide, suicide or an unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. Carrying a gun during an assault increases the risk of being shot by 400%.
The risk for unintentional injury and suicide in children is reduced by 73% when guns are kept locked, and by 70% when they are kept unloaded, but, unfortunately, less than 50% of gun-owning parents store all of their guns safely, and 8.3% of gun-owning parents store at least one gun unlocked and loaded. Although 75% of parents think their children would not touch a gun, this myth was shattered by the terrifying 2001 study, "Seeing is Believing," in which a majority of children handled a gun they found in a room, and 50% of them pulled the trigger.
Fortunately, stricter gun laws can reduce firearm related deaths. Laws that specifically limit children's access to guns reduce deaths from unintentional shootings by as much as 23% and suicides by as much as 8.3%. When we regulate guns, our children are safer.
Right now, there are multiple bills in the Oregon Legislature with provisions to require Oregon gun owners to safely store and transfer their guns. The science shows clearly that this type of legislation will save children's lives. Please reach out to your legislators and urge them to support safe gun storage legislation. You can find their contact information at www.oregonlegislature.gov.
Dr. Ryan Hassan is a pediatrician from Happy Valley.
Editor's note: Hassan provided references for his statistics. Due to space considerations, the newspaper did not run them.
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