Leave guns to pros
As a pediatrician and a mother myself, my heart goes out to the families in Parkland.The most basic, instinctive need of a parent is to protect their children. As pediatricians, so much of what we do is meant to help parents and caregivers do this. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated for changes that will give our country a better chance at protecting our most innocent and vulnerable. Earlier in March, the AAP passed a resolution with the number one priority to help protect children from gunfire in schools.
Gunfire kills about 1,300 U.S. children and teenagers each year and injures nearly 5,800 more, according to a 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Firearm injuries are one of the top three causes of death among youth, killing twice as many children as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 15 times as many as infections. Although mass shootings command our attention, our children remain at risk daily for suicide, homicide and unintentional injury from guns.
However, we can solve this problem by working together, just like we reduced deaths from car crashes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and many chronic diseases. We can apply the same approach to saving lives and preventing injuries from firearms.
I appreciate that firearm injuries in children is a multi-faceted problem and many changes need to be made, but today I would like to specifically address the local schools that are considering the possibility of arming teachers.
I, as well as the AAP, am opposed to arming teachers for many reasons. Access to guns and unsafe storage practices creates risk of serious unintentional injury and death. It is well documented in the medical research that children are less safe when they are around loaded and unlocked firearms and this fact cannot be ignored when considering whether or not to arm teachers (Pediatr Rev 2015; 36:43).
Well meaning, honest and professional people do have accidents with loaded and unlocked firearms and there are safer ways to address armed intruders than arming teachers. School resource officers who have more training than teachers and whose sole duty is to secure the school is one of those safer ways. Keeping guns locked and ready for use by trained individuals if necessary is another possibility. Physical changes to make school buildings more secure and mental health counselors are a few of the other changes that can be made to prevent a tragedy from happening.
A life taken by an intruder is no less devastating than a life taken by an accident that could have been prevented. I believe it is in the best interest of our schools to reduce this risk by leaving the job of security to professionals who are better trained to handle intruders rather than arming teachers who spend their day in a classroom full of children. I ask school board members to seriously consider this true risk when deciding whether or not to arm teachers.
Dr. Marcia Marhefka