Gun-related injuries are on the rise in the Carolinas. What can parents do to keep their children safe amid this disturbing trend?

News, Family Health | 2 years ago

Parents Need to Be Proactive in the Face of Gun Violence

Gun-related injuries are on the rise in the Carolinas. What can parents do to keep their children safe amid this disturbing trend?

Parents will do anything to keep their children safe and healthy. But one danger they might not consider is the impact of guns. The number of pediatric gun-related injuries has increased at a disturbing rate over the past few years.

The preventable nature of these injuries is what makes them so frustrating — so a group of health professionals at Levine Children’s Hospital are working to change this narrative. We spoke to Steven Teich, MD, co-director of the Pediatric Trauma Service at Levine Children’s Hospital and Tracie Campbell, an Injury & Violence Prevention Program coordinator in Pediatric Trauma, about what can be done to reduce the impact of guns on the youth population of the Carolinas. 

A problem that’s impossible to ignore

“From the point of view of pediatric trauma, we’re starting to research gun safety more given the uptick in pediatric gun violence,” says Dr. Teich. “We’ve just seen so many patients lately. That’s what got me interested.”

Although only in its initial stages, Dr. Teich’s research has already confirmed that more and more children are falling victim to gun violence. Dr. Teich notes that in 2014 Levine Children’s Hospital admitted 30 patients with gun-related injuries, but that this number nearly doubled to 57 gunshot wound patients in 2018. And in the first quarter of 2019, they already saw 16 gun-related injuries.

Dr. Teich notes that the injuries are largely due to family guns not being locked up. Young children will get their hands on a gun and then disaster will strike. Another portion of the gun-related injuries are associated with criminal behavior or interpersonal violence, often stemming from a minor disagreement that escalates into violence.

“We had one patient that’s been shot twice in the past nine months,” says Dr. Teich. “That kind of case suggests that even as we raise awareness about the dangers of guns, we’re not getting through to everyone.”

What can parents do?

As the program coordinator for pediatric trauma, Campbell sees the impact of gun violence up close every day. And she’s working with the trauma centers in the region to reduce these numbers and keep children safe. Campbell is trying to spread the word that there are simple steps parents can take to keep their children safe from guns.

“When a child is going over a friend’s house, parents don’t always ask if there is a gun in the home and if it’s secured,” says Campbell. “It’s so important to ask those questions ahead of time, in the same way you’d ask if a child has an allergy.”

One of Campbell’s initiatives is Asking Saves Kids (ASK). This initiative encourages parents and caretakers to ask other parents if they have guns in their home and ensuring they’re secured before play dates. The hope is that this initiative will push people to be more thoughtful about how they store guns.

“This isn’t an anti-gun initiative,” says Campbell. “ASK teaches parents how to change the situation if they hear there’s a gun. For instance, if you hear there’s a gun in a friend’s home, maybe you’ll invite children over to your house instead of sending your child to a friend’s home.”

Working together toward long-term change

Campbell and Dr. Teich also want to address the deeper issues that can lead to gun violence. After all, children accessing unsecured guns is only one part of the problem. A deeper problem is a lack of education around guns that cause patients to come back with gun-related injuries — even if they only recently were in the emergency department with a similar injury.

“The big concern is how many people are coming back to the hospital with gun-related injuries. We worry that someone might get discharged but not fully learn their lesson about gun violence,” says Campbell. “They get discharged and don’t see the reason to change and stop.”

Campbell believes we need to give victims of gun violence the tools they need to deal with interpersonal conflict in a way that doesn’t escalate to violence — so that they don’t end up returning to the emergency department. One tool is mentorship, which Campbell says is a great way to give young people the role models they need to turn away from violence and live a safer life.

“When it comes to gun violence, people are having conversations, but not necessarily taking action,” says Campbell. So as the amount of gun-related injuries continues to rise, it’s up to parents to be proactive and it’s up to the community as a whole to understand just how much of a problem this is. Because at the end of the day, vigilance is key when it comes to reducing gun violence.