Pediatricians Try to Influence Gun Debate

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4min 43sec

In the wake of the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, American pediatricians called on President Obama and other leaders to take action to prevent more kids being hurt or killed by guns. Guns have long been an issue for doctors who take care of kids. CPR Health Reporter Eric Whitney has this look at the gun debate and how they’re trying to influence it.

This is a transcript of Eric’s story.

Reporter Eric Whitney: Cherry Creek Pediatrician Dr. Steven Perry says it’s routine for doctors who take care of kids to talk to them and their parents about guns.

Steven Perry: It is a political issue. However, pediatricians I think are interested in it, because of the health or the safety issues about it. It’s one of the leading reasons why kids are killed in suicides and homicides and as well as unintentional injuries. So it’s definitely on the top of our radar as far as risk factors that we worry about.

Reporter: Nearly one in five deaths among Americans under age 20 is firearms-related. That includes kids playing with unlocked guns.

That’s why Perry says pediatricians typically talk about guns with new parents. And when kids get older, he says their doctors should talk to them directly, like he did in this recent office visit with a couple of adolescent brothers, in the context of other health concerns like bike and ski helmets and school sports.

Perry: Do you know of any of your friends that have guns?

Patient: Yeah, a couple of my friends they go hunting, so I’m pretty sure they have some guns.

Perry: And do you know if, their hunting guns, where they keep them?

Patient: No.

Perry: Are you aware if they keep them locked, or keep them loaded, or if they keep the ammunition there? You’re not sure?

Reporter: The American Academy of Pediatrics sent President Obama a letter after Sandy Hook, encouraging him to take actions to protect kids from guns. The national doctors group says assault weapons and large ammunition clips should be banned. But the Colorado chapter’s Steve Perry says his group is a practical bunch. Gun restrictions may or may not pass, but doctors know there are already lots of guns in their patients’ homes, and their focus is to keep those weapons from doing harm.

Perry: They probably aren’t going to the parents saying, you need to get rid of the guns in your home. We’re saying, keep ‘em safe, here’s a gun lock, here’s a way you can get gun locks, don’t keep your gun loaded. And ask, at their other friends’ houses, do they have guns? Do they keep their guns locked?

Reporter: But not everybody wants gun advice from a medical professional.

Edgar Antillon: Y’know, tell me to stay healthy, tell me my baby has colic, but I don’t think it’s their job to tell me about gun safety.

Reporter: Edgar Antillon organized the “Guns for Everybody” gun rights rally at the Capitol recently.

Antillon: They’re not gun experts, they’re not NRA members-maybe they are, and if they are, then I’ll take it as advice from an NRA member, not from a pediatrician.

Reporter: Actually, the NRA agrees with pediatricians that guns need to be locked up in homes with children in them.

Antillon and others at the "Guns for Everybody" rally are convinced that harsh gun restrictions are coming. They say that with Democrats holding the governor’s chair and majorities in both state houses, they expect the party to “go for broke.”

Rhonda Fields: I don’t think it’s a done deal, that we’re all gonna think alike.

Reporter: Democrat Rhonda Fields, who represents the Aurora district with the movie theater shooting site in it, has been the most vocal gun control advocate so far this legislative session. She says gun rights activists might be overestimating Democrats’ unity if they expect tough new laws, like an assault weapons ban.

Fields: I think that people are going to have to wait to see what’s on paper, they’re going to have to evaluate the facts, and they’re going to have to make a decision based on that, but I don’t think you can just say it’s gonna happen. I don’t believe that.

Reporter: Fields plans to introduce a bill to close loopholes in the background checks that are supposed to keep guns out of dangerous peoples’ hands. She says she’d support a ban on assault weapons, but she’s not sure one will be introduced in the Colorado legislature this year.

One thing she does know for sure? Not to expect any help from across the aisle.

Fields: I have not gotten the impression that they’re interested in any kind of gun policy reform.

Reporter: As state lawmakers debate potential new gun laws, Dr. Steven Perry continues to see patients at his practice in Cherry Creek. He says parents rarely talk to him about bringing up guns in the safety talks he has with kids. But he says a lot got in touch after the Sandy Hook shooting, asking for advice on how to talk about that with their kids.

Perry: That’s probably increased a thousandfold more in the last month than it had been.

Reporter: Don’t expect Colorado pediatricians to propose new gun legislation, but they say they’re willing to testify in favor of bills that help keep guns out of kids’ hands.

[Photo: CPR News]