Parkland shooting spurs chapters to advocate for stronger gun laws
from AAP State Advocacy
Chapters Views & News
The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., earlier
this year reignited AAP chapter efforts to prevent gun violence.
More than 30 chapters participated in local marches that coincided with the student-led
March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C. Pediatricians joined their young
patients in calling for stronger gun laws to ensure children are safe in schools.
The need for stronger gun laws also dominated discussions at this year’s AAP Annual
Leadership Forum. At a session titled “Gun Violence Prevention — Finding Advocacy
Opportunities Among the Challenges,” AAP leaders recounted their chapters’ response
to high-profiles acts of gun violence in their states. Chapter leaders noted that
they were able to use increased attention to the toll of gun violence to pass stronger
laws, fund gun violence research and have conversations about the effect these traumatic
events have on their patients and themselves.
AAP policy affirms that the safest environment for a child is one without a gun and
recommends that pediatricians advocate for the strongest possible legislative and
regulatory approaches to prevent firearm injuries and deaths. The Academy supports
evidenced-based approaches to reducing gun violence such as assault weapons bans,
universal background checks, safe storage and child access prevention laws.
Vermont enacted a package of gun bills this year that included provisions requiring
background checks for all gun purchases, prohibiting the sale of all high-capacity
ammunition and raising the minimum purchase age for all firearms to 21. Rebecca Bell, M.D., FAAP, a critical care pediatrician at the University of Vermont
Children’s Hospital and AAP Vermont Chapter Executive Board member, testified on behalf
of these bills.
“Firearm injury and death is a public health crisis,” Dr. Bell testified. “Any true
public health crisis requires a multifaceted approach, otherwise it wouldn’t be a
public health issue. … Limiting access to lethal means for those at risk of hurting
themselves or others saves lives.”
Legislative activity in other states has focused on measures that make it easier to
remove firearms from the hands of those at risk of hurting themselves or others and
banning devices that can make firearms even more lethal.
Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), also known as “red flag” laws, empower law
enforcement, family members and in some cases physicians to petition a judge to allow
the temporary removal of a firearm from the environment of a person at risk of harming
him or herself or someone else. So far this year, three states have enacted ERPO laws,
and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order instituting a red flag
The AAP Michigan Chapter commissioned a poll that found 70% of Michigan voters were
in favor of a statewide ERPO law, with 20% opposed and 10% undecided.
Another legislative trend in 2018 has been regulating bump stocks, which are trigger
accelerating devices that can be attached to semiautomatic weapons to increase firing
speed. The assailant in the Las Vegas concert shooting used the device to kill 59
people and injure hundreds of concert-goers. Since the October 2017 shooting, bump
stock bans have been enacted in seven states with one additional bill awaiting the
Gun violence prevention advocates are encouraged by legislative progress being made
in states that traditionally are known for having less stringent gun laws. Many advocates
credit the young people leading movements in their communities for keeping gun violence
prevention at the front of the conversation in state capitols.
Less than a week after the shooting at their school in which 14 students and three
staff members were killed, Parkland survivors flooded the Florida state capital recounting
harrowing stories and demanding stronger laws to keep guns out of schools. A few weeks
later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a package of bills into law that raised the
minimum age of assault weapon purchase to 21, created a three-day waiting period on
most gun purchases and banned bump stocks.
“We are so proud of you for standing up and making a difference in this world. You
have our support to change policies to keep you safe, healthy and happy,” AAP Florida
Chapter President Madeline Joseph, M.D., FAAP, said in a message to students from
Parkland and across the country.
The Texas Pediatric Society also has worked to advance the importance of gun violence
laws, and the AAP Pennsylvania Chapter has advocated for bills that would require
universal background checks, a red flag law and a ban on bump stocks. The AAP Maryland
Chapter is planning a conference on gun violence as a public health issue.