- Washington Report
For two decades, the Academy has been advocating for policies that protect children, families and communities from gun violence. After the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 first-graders dead, pediatricians renewed their call for progress and urged lawmakers to work across the aisle to move forward on meaningful gun reform.
Four years later, that message was reiterated after 49 people lost their lives in the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history after a shooter opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.“We grieve for the victims, we stand in solidarity with members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community who far too often are targets of violence and discrimination, but we also recognize that these actions alone are not enough,” said AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, in a press release. “We must take this opportunity, as our country reels from the deadliest mass shooting in its history, to push for common-sense gun safety policies that will make our children and our country safer."
Congress reacts, AAP pushes for change
With only a few weeks left on the legislative calendar before adjourning for recess, the work in Congress came to a near halt as the issue of gun control was re-inserted into the conversation.
In the U.S. Senate, more than 35 senators filibustered an appropriations bill for nearly 15 hours to bring four gun violence-related amendments to the floor for a vote. The Academy supported two of the amendments, including one from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would make it more difficult for individuals being monitored for terrorism activity to purchase firearms and one from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would expand requirements for background checks on all gun purchases.
In the few days between when the amendments were announced and then voted on, the Academy mobilized its full membership to urge their senators to support the proposals from Sens. Feinstein and Murphy. The Academy also coordinated a letter with nearly 60 other medical and public health groups in support of the Murphy and Feinstein amendments.
Unfortunately, the Senate failed to pass either of the amendments.
“We have lost far too many young lives to gun violence,” Dr. Dreyer said moments after the vote. “Today, the Senate missed a critical opportunity to lay a foundation for strong federal policies to keep children safe, but pediatricians will not give up our fight against this preventable public health crisis.”
Later that week, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives staged a sit-in on the chamber floor, demanding a vote on gun violence prevention before the impending Fourth of July hiatus, but House Republicans adjourned for recess before any such votes could take place.
Following the failed votes earlier in the week, the Senate also considered a bipartisan compromise to make it more difficult for those with terrorism-related air-travel restrictions to purchase firearms. Similarly, it did not advance beyond a procedural vote.
The House also considered a vote on legislation also intended to prohibit an individual from purchasing a gun if the government could prove within 72 hours that it had probable cause that the purchaser was a known or suspected terrorist. However, gun violence prevention groups oppose this legislation, saying it sets the bar too high to ban a gun purchase.
Pediatricians remain undeterred
The inability of federal leaders to work together to address gun violence has not dampened pediatricians’ resolve to advocate for overdue reform.
Looking ahead to the new administration, gun violence prevention will be a top federal advocacy priority for the Academy and an issue that will be put forth for discussion between the presidential candidates. The Academy has outlined the following priorities for the federal government, which will continue to serve as a blueprint for advocacy efforts:
- Stronger gun laws: Enactment of common-sense firearm legislation, including stronger background checks, banning assault weapons, addressing firearm trafficking and encouraging safe firearm storage.
- Violence prevention programs: Support for programs addressing the needs of at-risk children and children exposed to violence, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Justice.
- Research: Funding for gun violence prevention research and public health surveillance, including $10 million to support research at the CDC and expanding the National Violent Death Reporting System to all 50 states.
- Physician counseling: Protecting the crucial role of physicians in providing anticipatory guidance to patients about firearm safety.
- Mental health access: Ensuring children and their families have access to appropriate mental health services, particularly to address the effects of exposure to violence.
“Pediatricians urge our elected leaders — along with those running for office this year — to prevent gun violence by supporting meaningful and comprehensive public policies that keep children safe,” AAP CEO/Executive Director Karen Remley, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., FAAP, said in a press release. “We will continue speaking up for the victims of gun violence and their families, for the children we care for, and for our community, until we see real progress.”