As a pediatrician, father and grandfather, my heart goes out to the families in Newtown, Conn. The most basic and instinctive need of every parent is to protect their children. As pediatricians, much of what we do is meant to help parents and caregivers do this.
We cannot accept a national culture that tolerates tragedies like Sandy Hook. Americans own more firearms (89 weapons for every 100 citizens) and have higher rates of firearm-related deaths than any other country. For youths between 15 and 24 years old, firearm homicide rates in the U.S. are 35 times higher than in other countries — and tragically, the firearm suicide rates for children from 5 to 14 years of age are eight times higher.
Who among us has not succumbed to a sudden impulse to slam a door, punch a wall or gun the accelerator in anger? Is your child wise enough to suppress a similar angry impulse or a self-destructive thought? What if a gun is within reach? What can we as a family and community do to lessen the danger of that impulse?
As a family, we can lock up the weapons in a separate place from the ammunition. As a community, we also must make firearms less accessible in an impulsive moment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated for changes that will give our country a better chance at protecting our most innocent and vulnerable. As a nation, we must:
Ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to the public.
Advocate for strict firearms safety laws, including trigger locks and safes.
Improve support for mental health services.
Push for changes in how the media report on acts of mass terror and the perpetrators.
Rethink a culture that sees violence as entertainment.
Limit children's exposure to media violence (e.g., violent movies and video games).
Invest in our youngest and most vulnerable members to foster their healthy, lifelong development.
Pediatricians, parents, teachers and all who care for children nationwide will continue to look for ways to comfort, support and protect them. We look to our nation's leaders to help prevent further atrocities like Sandy Hook.
William E. Cosgrove is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the president-elect of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.