Guns are a public health issue for Florida children

Published on
July 5, 2016

A 6-year-old boy playing outside his Miami-Dade apartment is killed by a stray bullet.

A 6-year-old girl in Orlando dies after accidentally shooting herself with a handgun.

A 16-year-old boy in the Florida Panhandle shoots his 10-year-old sister dead with the family’s rifle.

In the first half of 2016, more than a dozen children in Florida have been killed by guns. An untold number of others have been hurt.

Firearm-related injuries are among the top three killers of children and teenagers nationally, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In Florida, they were responsible for the deaths of at least 176 children in 2014. But despite jarring statistics, state policy makers have had little appetite for addressing guns as a public health issue.

For my 2016 National Fellowship project, I’m hoping to address the scope of the problem and tell the stories of Florida children and families affected by gun violence and accidents. Who were these children? How were they killed or injured by guns? How are their families and communities grieving?

I’d also like to explore the emotional, psychological and physical toll a shooting has on a child.

Then, there’s the public policy piece.

Experts across Florida consider guns among the top public health issues for children. The Florida Legislature has taken action on other public health issues (i.e. mandating seatbelts and helmets, and promoting healthy eating in schools.) So where are lawmakers on child gun deaths?

Most physicians would say state lawmakers have actually made the situation worse.

In 2011, Florida became the first state to pass a law instructing health care practitioners to avoid discussing gun ownership with their patients. Supporters said gun owners had long felt bullied by doctors with anti-gun agendas. But the move outraged pediatricians, who say counseling parents about firearm storage is one of the most effective ways to keep kids safe.

State lawmakers have also declined to take up “safe storage” and “smart gun” proposals.

The National Rifle Association, which backed the so-called “Docs vs. Glocks” bill and opposes gun storage legislation, is a powerful force in state politics. Florida is, after all, the state that pioneered stand your ground legislation. My project will explore the NRA’s influence in Tallahassee, as well as that exerted by gun safety groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

[Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr.]