Pediatricians are joining the "March for Our Lives" in downtown Buffalo Saturday morning, declaring gun violence a public health threat to children and demanding stricter gun laws and restricting children's access to guns.
"I'll be marching," said Dr. Kathryn Bass, a medical director of the pediatric trauma program at Oishei Children's Hospital. On Tuesday morning, doctors held a panel discussion on gun violence and youth and to declare their support for the young people marching here in Buffalo and in cities across the country to support the survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who are calling for stricter gun control.
In a reminder of the violence children are facing, news broke, just moments before the panel discussion began, that there had been another school shooting, this time at a high school in Maryland.
Pediatricians across the Buffalo Niagara region are being asked to display posters encouraging patients and their parents to join them in the Buffalo march by wearing blue and meeting at 1:15 p.m. outside the Statler Hotel, said Dr. Michael Terranova, a local representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The march, which is being hosted by Mayor Byron Brown and organized by the Western New York Peace Center, is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. in Niagara Square.
Firearm-related injuries are a "significant public health problem" in children, Terranova said, and his organization says they believe the safest home is one with no gun "or at least restricted access to guns."
Stephen Turkovich, chief medical officer at Oishei, said as physicians of young patients, they have watched too many children suffer the devastating effects of a gunshot wound. He spoke of one patient who was a "young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time." The boy had to learn how to walk and talk again. His injuries," Turkovich said, "are going to live with him for the rest of his life."
As pediatricians, Turkovich said, it's their duty to advocate for children, through discussing and studying gun violence. "Our core mission is to keep children safe and healthy."
The doctors and health care advocates who gathered for the discussion pointed out that mass school shootings, as horrific as they are, represent only a small portion of the gun violence youth face in the United Sates.
"We put a lot of attention on mass school shootings," Bass said. They should command our attention, she said, but so should the homicides, suicides and accidental shootings that claim children's lives on a daily basis. "We're losing many of our children to these individual events."
Restricting children's access to guns also needs to be an important part of the discussion about gun injuries, the pediatricians said. Parents need to make sure they keep any weapons in the house safely away from their children and shouldn't hesitate to ask the parents of their children's friends about the matter when they go to visit.
The role of guns in suicides also should be studied, said Gale Burstein, Commissioner of the Erie County Health Department. She said about a third of the county's suicides are from gunshot wounds and that having a gun in the home greatly increases the likelihood of someone using a gun to die by suicide. "This is a huge problem with people who are at risk of suicide," she said.
The pediatricians also called on the federal government to allow the Centers for Disease Control to study gun-related injuries, just as it does for any other epidemic such as the flu.
During flu season, Turkovich said, he gets an array of emails from everyone from the CDC to the county Health Department with data on the number of diagnosed cases of flu and deaths from the flu.
"I don't have that data around gun violence," he said.
By studying it, doctors can develop "smart strategies" to reduce and prevent gun deaths, he said.
In addition to the march on Saturday, the pediatricians also encourage the public to participate in a regionwide event called "Stop the Bleed." Workshops ono how to recognize and control life-threatening bleeding will be offered Saturday, April 7, at four locations: ECC South Campus, Warren J. Rathke Training Facility in Lockport, Medina Memorial Hospital and the Genesee County Emergency Management building in Batavia. For more information go to mercyflight.org and click on "Stop the Bleed."