In 2016, the American Medical Association declared gun violence a public health crisis. That declaration came after 49 people were killed and another 53 were injured by a gunman at a gay nightclub in Florida. That shooting came four years after 26 people, including 20 children, were massacred by a gunman at an elementary school in Connecticut.
When the shooting in Newtown happened, conventional wisdom would have told most of us that gun violence had to be fought in a bipartisan manner, with elected officials and business executives leading the way. For the most part, that hasn’t happened.
Instead, alarming gun-related violence take place daily–and our kids are paying the heaviest toll, with guns now surpassing motor vehicle accidents as the No. 1 killer of children and adolescents in America. On average, five children die every day from gun violence in this country and eight kids are injured daily because a gun wasn’t properly stored.
The heartbreaking images and senseless deaths dating back to Sandy Hook have accomplished little. While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden this summer represented the most significant progress in gun safety laws in nearly 30 years, there’s still much more work that needs to be done to make our communities safer. The spike in gun-related homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings has continued unabated.
From 2014 through 2021, the number of gun deaths and injuries among children ages 12-17 more than doubled, with 4,613 victims nationwide in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive. In the last two years alone, the number of gun deaths among people in that age bracket has jumped 58% to 1,238 last year.
The stats are no more encouraging for younger children, who shouldn’t be fearing for their lives in a nation as educated and wealthy as this one. Nationwide, 1,060 children age 11 or younger were killed or injured by gunfire in 2021, compared with 696 in 2019.
At Northwell, we’ve been speaking out about this healthcare crisis for the past three years, pleading with leaders throughout healthcare and beyond to raise their collective voices in demanding change and take action within their own communities to address some of the root causes of this senseless violence. We’ve hosted three Gun Violence Prevention Forums to rally support among local and national leaders, and created a “learning collaborative” that has brought together more than 680 healthcare professionals nationwide to share best practices that have proven effective in curbing gun violence.
Now we recently launched a first-of-its-kind awareness campaign designed to protect kids from being injured or killed by guns that are being improperly stored in people’s homes. The campaign focuses on helping parents and children feel comfortable talking to friends, family and neighbors about gun safety. We made this available to any healthcare organization that wants to run the campaign in their home markets, giving them the option to brand them–and already, more than 1,000 hospitals in nearly every state have agreed to do so.
Why are we doing this? Too often, we don’t know how to ask the parents of our kids’ friends or neighbors if they own guns, and if they do, where are they stored in the home. It can be an awkward conversation, but being able to talk about it can save lives. As the largest healthcare provider in New York, we’re looking to normalize those discussions and make it easier for parents to assure themselves that a play date is not going to have deadly consequences.
Unintentional shootings are far too common. In 2021, there were 342 such incidents involving children in the U.S., resulting in 141 deaths and 219 injuries nationally, according to the nonprofit gun safety advocacy group Everytown and its #NotAnAccident Index.
Each day, eight children are shot by accident every day in the U.S. and only 30% of gun owners who live with kids store their guns safely. An estimated 4.6 million kids in this country live with unlocked, loaded guns in the home.
We’re hoping this advertising campaign helps lead to the elimination of those unintentional shootings by educating people to know what to ask, how to ask and be comfortable talking about guns. Aside from unintentional shootings, parents who are gun owners and make a point of storing their weapons securely also reduce the suicide risk of a child who may be struggling with depression or other mental health issues.
I want to underscore that this campaign is not intended to shame or embarrass gun owners, or seek removal of weapons from people’s homes. We support Second Amendment rights, but as all responsible gun owners would agree, safety must always be a top priority.
Hospitals throughout the country have seen firsthand the toll gun violence takes on society. We collectively treat tens of thousands of gunshot injuries annually. That’s why it’s the responsibility of hospitals and health systems to take aggressive action to confront this public health crisis and pursue strategies to reduce the bloodshed. This new ad campaign is a meaningful first step in providing health systems with a public service tool that we think will save lives.
Similar to how we’ve used education and awareness to reduce smoking and reckless driving among teens, the right messaging can help keep our children safe from firearms.