Another School Shooting Tragedy: What's a Parent to Do?


Another School Shooting Tragedy
What's a Parent to Do?
Healthy Living - October 28, 2014
William Sturrock, MD

Lost in this week’s disturbing news stories about Ebola and terrorist attacks was an incident that can cause parents with school-aged children more sleepless nights than just about anything.  At Marysville High School in Washington state, a freshman, who was seen as popular in his peer group, took out a handgun in the lunchroom and opened fire.  Within minutes, five classmates were shot at close range, killing one and leaving three in critical condition with head wounds.  When one brave teacher attempted to stop him from reloading, he then took his own life.

Compounding the mystery surrounding the shooter’s motive and mental state is the fact that all of his victims were well-known to him with two being his cousins.  Our hearts go out to the families of all involved as we struggle to find some lesson from this tragedy.  Certainly by 2014 in America we should have some understanding of how we can prevent similar occurrences in our own communities, and with our own children.

However, when I went to the blogosphere, I quickly learned that the issue of preventing gun violence is as controversial as race relations, contraception and taxes.  On one side of course is the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has considerable clout as a lobbying force to our elected leadership.  On the other side is the unlikely foe of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  I don’t tend to think of bow-tie wearing doctors specializing in the conditions of children as a particularly unruly group of partisans, but there it is.
Being someone who likes to understand more than one side of an issue and to look for areas of common ground in any debate, I felt I had an obligation to try to find consensus on this subject.  Besides, as a native rural New Englander who had hunted and fished as a boy, and later had served his country as a battalion surgeon for six years in the Army, I felt I could be a neutral referee and at least gleam a few morsels of wisdom from the positions of both sides.
First, I reviewed the AAP’s argument that in homes where guns are locked there are 73% fewer accidental injuries due to gun shots.  They go on to state that every year 20,000 people under age 25 are injured by gun violence, and that we have an obligation to decrease this number just the same as we would try to prevent any accident.

Now let’s look at the other side on the NRA website.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the fire-arm accidental death rate has already fallen 94% from its height in 1904, to a rate of just 0.2 per 100,000 and that this death rate is behind most other causes, such as motor vehicle accidents, poisoning, falls, drowning, fires, etc.

Well, putting on the referee hat, I can see that so far it is a draw because the AAP is talking about injuries and the NRA is discussing death rates and you really can’t judge the validity of these dueling statistics.  So how about looking at the advice each group offers to parents.  This time I will let the NRA go first: “Store guns so that they are not accessible to children . . . while specific security measures may vary, a parent must, in every case, assess the exposure of the fire-arm and absolutely ensure that it is inaccessible to a child” – taken directly from the Eddie Eagle GunSafe NRA site.

Well, that seems pretty level-headed advice.  Now let’s look at the AAP recommendations.  It’s true that they are advocating for better legislation to regulate the access to assault rifles, ammunition, and handguns in general.  I realize this will never be acceptable to the NRA.  However, take a look at their advice to parents: “If you choose to keep a gun at home, store it unloaded in a locked place.  Lock and store the ammunition in a separate place”.  Now that doesn’t seem too different from the Eddie Eagle advice.  Not to say that this could be the grand compromise that will allow these protagonists to come together and share a group hug, but perhaps they can put aside their statistics and soap-box rhetoric and just agree on this basic advice.  It may not have made a difference in Marysville, but if all parents everywhere strive to do their best to follow the basic advice – adults need to be responsible to make sure their children do not have unsupervised access to loaded guns – then some parent somewhere might be saved from the nightmare of rushing down to their local school after another gun incident and not having a child to hug.