It’s time to stop being afraid to study gun violence

A new message pops up on my phone. I signal to the attending and step out of the OR.  I’m on anesthesia rotation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, as a pediatrics resident at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. But because I’m also a mom to a first grader in Cupertino, both my pager and my cell phone are frequently “on call”.

“I want to take this opportunity to update you about the police activity at Monta Vista High School this morning.”

My heart skips a beat.

It’s the superintendent, to tell us a bomb threat closes Monta Vista and a nearby elementary school.  My daughter’s school, just a few miles away, will stay open.  I rationalize that this is Cupertino, the heart of Silicon Valley and home of Apple.  Surely nothing bad will happen here, of all places. I call my husband to make sure he keeps an eye on the news, and head back to the OR.

This was December 13, the day before Newtown.

Can you imagine the reaction if this happened on December 15?  But the unbelievable thing is, Newtown has happened before, over and over, leaving thousands of children dead or disabled.

I cannot reconcile Newtown with the fact that at Packard and other pediatric hospitals across the country, we can save premature babies less than a pound, we can fix hearts with tiny catheters and treat rare brain tumors. I have seen children breathe with new lungs, and “fly” out of the pediatric ICU with new kidneys, free from a lifetime of dialysis.

Attending pediatricians speak of a time when an ear infection could turn into life threatening meningitis, or years of deafness and disability.  But in today’s reality, in my short time in pediatrics, I have seen more kids affected by gunshot wounds than this feared infectious disease.

I cannot reconcile the fact that today we are willing to take a chance with the precious lives that every day we endeavor to keep safe and healthy.

Let’s change the debate from the distracting proposition of armed guards in schools. Let’s urge our elected leaders to adequately fund the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and to get back on track with firearm safety research, which according to a recent JAMA article has been virtually frozen since 1996.  Let’s not be afraid to study gun violence and draw evidence-based conclusions about its causes.  A common refrain from advocates of expanded gun access is that there is minimal data showing gun violence is the result of not enough gun control. Well, there can be no data when no studies are allowed in the first place.  Let’s stop suppressing the science at a federal level.

The reasons for gun violence are complex and varied, but the lack of research only serves to make those reasons more opaque.  As a physician scientist and a mom, I feel we should demand that research into gun violence be funded and conducted without restriction at the federal level.   This is a first step we can all agree on.

Cathleen Collins is a pediatrics resident who blogs at BadParent, MD.

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