We are saddened by another school shooting in America. Four lives were cut short, and one young man who was obviously crying out for help clearly did not get it.
There are so many pieces to this puzzle to examine. So many areas where we can improve. As a child psychiatrist, I am fully aware that our mental health system is broken. So many families seeking care run into barriers and cannot access the help that they need. With the spread of COVID, rates of depression and anxiety have doubled for young people. And yet, we were unable to meet our community’s needs before the pandemic. Families wait in line for way too long. Reimbursement systems do not value the care that is provided. While surgical procedures are covered by insurance, many plans fail to pay for evidence-based treatments like therapy. Many kids who need help are never identified as at-risk. And those who are certainly cannot get into counseling within 48 hours. Many brilliant people continue to strategize to fix this problem, and we need their efforts. But we can’t wait for this fix for the shootings to stop. I can tell you from working within it that fixing this broken system is taking far too long.
So we have a choice. We can choose to be angry; we can feel overwhelmed; we can lament that this should not have happened. These would all be reasonable options. But I ask, are there any straightforward actions that we could take right now? Anything that we know without a doubt could decrease the risk of losing more young lives senselessly?
Definitely. We can all make our guns inaccessible by locking them up. We can store them unloaded. We can lock up the ammunition separately. Want to keep a loaded gun accessible? Buy a biometric safe. Buy a gun lockbox. Research has demonstrated that communities with more guns have more firearm deaths. But what if we could change that? What if it’s not just the presence of a gun, but access to the gun that makes all the difference? Young people often act without thinking through long-term consequences. Teens are often spurred on by those regions of the brain that are on fire with emotion, leaving little space for reason. This can lead to life-altering decisions that are irreversible. It is our responsibility as adults to secure the firearms.
By preventing unintended users from accessing our firearms, we will save lives. School shootings get our attention, but we lose 3,200 children and teens to gun deaths annually in the United States, mostly through homicide and suicide. Where do the suicidal youth find a gun? More than 80 percent use a gun they find at home. But this doesn’t have to be our path forward. We can become exquisitely safe with how we store our guns so that our youth do not have access. We have an obligation to keep firearms out of the hands of children.
Shayla A. Sullivant is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
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