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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy photos A crowd including Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry gathered at the Statehouse for an Aug. 17 rally demanding action on guns in the wake of recent mass shootings. Similar rallies took place in cities nationwide, including Fort Wayne.

  • As a member of the rally’s sponsoring organization, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, holds the megaphone, Fort Wayne pediatrician Tony GiaQuinta speaks to the crowd from the steps of the Statehouse.

Sunday, August 25, 2019 1:00 am

A pediatrician's plea

What will it take for us to stop accepting children's deaths by gun?

Dr. Tony GiaQuinta

I love being a pediatrician. For much of the day, I'm playing and interacting with healthy children, monitoring their development, showing off magic tricks, high-fiving teens for good report cards and high-fiving parents for finally getting their toddler to potty train.

But I have bad days, too.

I've cared for children who have died from cancer.

I've cared for children who have died from sudden infant death syndrome.

Just last month I lost one of my patients to a car accident.

These deaths are tragic and heartbreaking.

And for every one of these deaths, we search exhaustively, asking what we could have done differently to prevent this. Asking, what more can we do?

So we act. And we pour every amount of science, medicine and technology into saving children from cancer.

We pass laws to keep infants and toddlers safe and secured in highly regulated car seats, and laws mandating young children be buckled up.

We regulate the safety of cribs, mattresses and sleepers, and we post billboards stating unequivocally the safest way to sleep to prevent SIDS. Just last month, manufacturers recalled a particular bassinet from shelves because we found this piece of elevated bedding too dangerous for infant sleep.

In each of these tragedies, our society devotes every effort, including laws, science and research, toward preventing deaths. Those deaths from the sleeper, although very rare, were unacceptable. Just one death was too many to ignore even the smallest possibility of a life saved.

But when children die from bullets, whether accidental deaths, homicide or suicide, are our actions the same?

Do we act with the same ferocious resolve that one death is too many, that one life saved is worth any effort?

The answer is no.

Of the children worldwide killed by a bullet, 91% are in the United States.

That's four kids dying each day from a bullet; 1,300 children a year.

And make no mistake, this is an Indiana problem. Indiana's children are in danger. Indiana had the seventh-highest per capita rate of shootings involving children in the U.S.

Our older children are also in danger. According to Indiana Youth Institute's 2015 Kids Count in Indiana Data, one out of five Hoosier students contemplated suicide in the previous 12 months; about one out of 10 teens attempted it. Indiana has the highest rate of teens who consider suicide in the U.S. and the second highest rate of teens who attempt suicide.

Folks, this is why we have red flag laws, and our legislators from Indiana know this.

With over 300 million firearms estimated to be in circulation in the United States, the goal cannot be to live in a country without guns.

Rather, we as health care practitioners believe we can shift the paradigm to ensuring we can live safely in a world with guns.

And we can. Just last month, in the journal Pediatrics, a large study analyzed deaths of children killed by bullets and found that states with stricter gun laws had lower rates of firearm-related pediatric mortality. A solution is within our reach.

So, imagine a deadly virus was spreading, killing more and more children every year. We would declare a state of emergency, band together and focus every effort and every dollar, working continuously to stop its spread.

Gun violence is a disease, and our lawmakers need to realize that until we start treating it like a disease and focusing every ounce on prevention, from background checks to red-flag laws, we will never approach a cure.

Dr. Tony GiaQuinta is a Fort Wayne pediatrician and president of the Indiana American Academy of Pediatrics.