For the past three decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics—some 62,000 members strong—has been an outspoken voice on the issue of gun control, a position that has landed it on the NRA’s (admittedly very long) list of enemies. In 1992, the AAP issued its first policy statement supporting a handgun and assault weapons ban, making it the first public health organization to do so, and it has long recommended that doctors talk about gun safety with parents. Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, the AAP has stepped up attempts to educate parents about gun safety around children.
But as the fight over gun rights grows ever more virulent at the national level, the AAP and individual doctors have quietly begun to take a softer stance on the issue, turning their focus to peddling realistic policies rather than clinging to a hard-and-fast no-guns line.
On a recent Sunday in April, 70 doctors and scientists associated with the AAP filed into a convention center in Vancouver to discuss firearm injury prevention. Presenters clicked through PowerPoint slides highlighting topics such as risk factors for gun injuries, popular gun-safety myths, and stats on suicide and homicide due to guns in the home. “The issue of guns really follows directly from all the concerns we have about injuries in general. This is one kind of injury that endangers the health and life of kids,” said Dr. Robert Sege, a Boston Medical Center pediatrician, who gave a presentation on how to talk about guns with parents.
The AAP’s outgoing president, Thomas McInerny—who made the Sandy Hook massacre a call to action for gun safety during his one-year post—sat in the audience. While the AAP has been advocating for an end to gun violence for some 30 years now, the shooting in Newtown shocked the nation and galvanized the AAP’s doctors to redouble their efforts in support of new gun-control measures. Newtown pediatrician Laura Nowacki lost eight of her patients in the massacre at Sandy Hook. “I’ve never spoken to the media until all of this happened. But I really believe I have to stand up. I have to use my voice,” she told the AAP News in June.
Several more Newtown victims were patients of Dr. Richard Auerbach; he’d held two of them in his arms in the delivery room where they were born. Auerbach, along with other pediatricians, wrote to Congress last year in support of an ultimately doomed measure to ban semiautomatic assault weapons brought by Senator Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat.
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