AAP resolve for gun violence prevention stronger than ever
DevinMiller, Washington Correspondent
“We are in this together and for the long term because our national policy must change;
the life of every child in this country is worth it.”
Those were the words of AAP President Colleen A. Kraft, M.D., M.B.A., FAAP, in a message
to all members following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland,
Fla., that took the lives of 17 children and adults.
Pediatrician advocacy to protect children from gun violence is not new. In fact, the
Academy issued its first policy statement on the topic in 1985. Over 33 years, Americans
have witnessed mass shootings that have devastated families and communities. Columbine
in 1999. Virginia Tech in 2007. Newtown in 2012. Orlando in 2016. Sutherland Springs
and Las Vegas in 2017. These are only a few of the mass shootings that grabbed headlines,
left our country in mourning and, in some cases, reignited the discussion of how federal
policies need to change to prevent these tragic events from happening again.
A few months into 2018, we find ourselves in the same place. Only this time, momentum
in Washington and across the country to change policies is being driven by students
who survived the Parkland shooting.
In an election year, the political landscape is daunting and the appetite for major
shifts in federal policy may be lacking. Yet, pediatricians have reasserted their
dedication to advocating for common-sense gun violence prevention policies to keep
children, families and communities safe.
“Pediatricians understand all too well the toll gun violence takes — not just in the
form of mass shootings that make headlines — but in the daily, systemic acts of suicide,
homicide and accidental shootings that shatter far too many lives,” Dr. Kraft said
in her message to members.
Following is a look at the recent history of gun violence prevention efforts at the
federal level, where we stand now and where we might go from here.
A look back
The Academy has long urged lawmakers to address gun violence as a public health threat.
In October 2012, the Academy released its updated policy statement on preventing gun
injuries in children. The statement (reaffirmed in 2016) called for the strongest-possible
legislative and regulatory approaches to reduce the accessibility of guns to children
and adolescents, including regulations on the purchase of guns, child access prevention
laws that enforce safe storage practices, the restoration of the ban on the sale of
assault weapons to the general public and consumer product regulations.
Two months later, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.,
took the lives of 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7. The tragedy became a galvanizing
moment for pediatricians across the country who could not stay silent on the need
to address gun violence prevention through meaningful reform.
Fast forward to April 2013. After debating a package of gun safety bills, the U.S.
Senate failed to advance any of them.
Channeling frustration and disappointment into action, the Academy hosted its annual
Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., days later where 150 pediatricians from
40 states attended meetings on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to find a new way to
prevent gun violence. Participants framed gun violence prevention as a child health
issue and outlined the immediate need for gun safety legislation, federal research
on gun violence prevention and access to mental health screening and services.
Throughout this timeframe, the Academy also advocated for funding for gun violence
prevention research at federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) and the National Institutes of Health. The Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996
as part of a larger federal government spending bill, had prohibited the CDC from
using money to advocate or promote gun control. Although it was not intended to end
research into gun violence, the Dickey Amendment created a long-lasting chilling effect
on the use of public health dollars to fund research in the subject area.
There have been other sporadic pushes for a discussion of gun violence prevention
at the federal level. Unfortunately, no proposal has gained enough steam in recent
years for passage into law.
The current federal landscape
The week after the Parkland shooting, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jeff Flake
(R-Ariz.) introduced the Age 21 Act, which would raise the age for purchase of assault
weapons and high-capacity magazines to 21, bringing it in line with the minimum age
limit for handguns.
Congress also discussed repealing the Dickey Amendment but took no immediate action.
Paul Chung, M.D., M.S., FAAP, participated in a media call with U.S. representatives
calling for funding for federal gun violence prevention research. Currently, two bills
in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 1478 and H.R. 4573, would repeal or clarify
the Dickey Amendment, respectively. The Academy also continues its advocacy to provide
the CDC with dedicated funding for gun violence prevention research.
The AAP Committee on Federal Government Affairs met in Washington the weekend following
the shooting, and visited nearly 40 congressional offices, where they pressed legislators
to pass comprehensive gun safety legislation. Upon their late-February return to Washington,
the Senate opted not to bring any bill related to gun safety to the floor for debate,
a major blow to any legislative momentum that was generated after Parkland. AAP members
did not stand down and are continuing to call on Congress for comprehensive policy
solutions to address the impact of gun violence on children’s health and well-being.
The Academy’s advocacy strategy focuses on mobilizing individual members, chapters,
committees, councils and sections. The multifaceted approach includes empowering pediatricians
with clear messages for the media, using AAP policy to guide advocacy with lawmakers,
and supporting youths, families and other partner organizations to create change.
To receive federal policy updates on gun violence prevention efforts and learn about
advocacy opportunities, join the AAP Key Contact Network by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.