Skip to main content

How we can keep kids from shooting people

By Judith S. Palfrey, Special to CNN
updated 7:30 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Judith Palfrey: Gun violence a health threat to kids; New Jersey shooting is an example
  • She says 6,570 people ages 1 to 24 died from firearm injuries in 2010
  • She says Americans must commit to gun laws to keep kids safe
  • Palfrey: We need simple, strict rules to get Americans to change their habits on guns

Editor's note: Judith Palfrey is a general pediatrician and the T. Berry Brazelton professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior associate in medicine at Children's Hospital, Boston. She was the 2009-2010 president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She has written expensively about community medicine, public health and child advocacy.

(CNN) -- Gun violence is a public health threat to our children. My husband, Sean Palfrey, and I are pediatricians. We are not specialists or experts in the field of injuries, but we are, sadly, all too familiar with the devastating impact of guns in children's lives. Firearms have claimed the lives of patients, friends and family members.

The shooting this week of a 6-year-old boy by his 4-year-old neighbor, who apparently had gotten hold of a loaded .22-caliber rifle from his home in New Jersey, reminds us that gun-related tragedies are daily occurrences in America.

Last December, in the days after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, my husband and I wanted the public to know that gun injuries are too common in our children's lives. We wanted doctors and nurses to redouble efforts to help families decrease the threat that guns pose to children and to offer hope and encouragement that there really are positive things we can do to increase our children's safety. So we wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine

Judith S. Palfrey
Judith S. Palfrey

For the article, we didn't have to look far to discover that guns are as much a threat to our children and grandchildren as infectious diseases and other health disorders. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6,570 people ages 1 to 24 died from firearm injuries in 2010. That's 18 people every day and a staggering seven a day for children ages 1 to 19.

In 2010, firearms caused twice as many deaths as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 15 times as many as the recorded infections. Protecting children from gun violence is not a political decision, it's a public health imperative.

Guns kill teenagers who get into scuffles over weighty and trivial matters. They kill sad boys and girls who make the impulsive decision to end it all right now, and can because they have the lethal means right in their hands. And they kill little children who play act what they see adults doing around them or on television or the internet.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In October, a committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on firearm-related injuries. The statement included technical background research and statistics, asked questions about how and why kids get their hands on guns and came to the evidence-based conclusion that if children have access to guns in their homes or neighborhoods, they are at risk of injury.

Here is what the AAP recommended

"The best preventive measure against firearm injuries and deaths is not to own a gun. However, if you choose to have firearms in your home, adhere to these rules for gun safety:

• Never allow your child access to your gun(s). No matter how much instruction you may give him or her, a youngster in the middle years is not mature and responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon.

• Never keep a loaded gun in the house or the car.

• Guns and ammunition should be locked away safely in separate locations in the house. Make sure children don't have access to the keys.

• Guns should be equipped with trigger locks.

• When using a gun for hunting or target practice, learn how to operate it before loading it. Never point the gun at another person and keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it. Before setting the gun down, always unload it.

• Do not use alcohol or drugs while you are shooting.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has awakened our nation into action. It prompted our president to declare that "now is the time" to end gun violence. It encouraged our elected leaders to come together to vote on legislation that can make children feel safe in their homes, school and communities. It mobilized advocates and parents to come to Washington. It spurred dialogue in local and national media.

We are at a tipping point. And we can do this.

We have increased automobile and bike safety and prevented drownings and poisonings by making simple but strict rules compelling Americans to change their habits. We can make our country safer, but only if we work together. Only if we look at these numbers and say: Enough.

Gun violence is an epidemic that we can treat over time. We must not only understand this, we must act. Through strong state and federal gun safety policies, through research into the causes and prevention strategies of gun violence, through doctors talking to patients about guns in the home, through reducing children's exposure to violence in the media, in their homes and in their communities, we can do this.

Medical professionals, clergy, government officials, police officers, families must collectively say, without relent or apology: We must protect our children.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Judith Palfrey.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT