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Minnesota pediatricians demand action on gun violence epidemic

160 pediatric providers across the state, along with Children’s Minnesota, have published an open letter calling on lawmakers to pass bills that would help reduce gun violence.

“If we, pediatric health care professionals, woke up tomorrow knowing how to cure childhood cancer, you can bet we would waste no time saving young lives,” it said.

The letter says lawmakers have the power to do something just as powerful - because gun violence in Minnesota now kills more children than cancer.

“When a child is shot in Minnesota, we are the ones who deal with the devastation up close,” the letter continues. “We are the ones who desperately try to save their lives and repair their young bodies, blown apart by a bullet. We are the ones who try to comfort anguished family members. But it is not enough for us to treat kids after they are shot. We must prevent them from getting shot in the first place. We must stop this nightmare from playing out over and over in hospitals across Minnesota, and across the country. It’s a horror show no human should have to experience, let alone a child.”

Pediatrician Andrew Waititu Kiragu has treated children for over two decades, specializing in trauma care. He says that the injuries he’s seen, especially within the last decade, are getting increasingly worse.

“In 2016, firearm deaths overtook motor vehicle injuries. In 2020, which is the most recent available recording of national data, there were over 4300 children who were killed by firearms,” he said. “This was up by almost a thousand from the previous year.”

Children’s Minnesota and allied pediatricians are asking lawmakers to pass omnibus public safety bills in the House and Senate that would restrict who is able to access a gun by expanding background checks for purchasing and transfers. They would also keep guns away from people who are at extreme risk to themselves or others.

Connecticut’s extreme risk law has reduced firearm suicide rates by 14%.

Kiragu says there are several factors contributing to child gun deaths. Sometimes a firearm wasn’t stored properly, or a child was caught in crossfire. Teen suicide rates are rising rapidly. The largest contributor, he says, is homicide.

“Sadly, it disproportionately affects children of color. We need to approach this from all fronts of prevention, particularly within the mitigation of poverty–which is undergirded by systemic racism.”

Nationally, areas that face poverty have higher rates of violence and also mental health issues. Kiragu says poverty is a major contributor to the crisis of gun violence.

“Making sure that impoverished communities have access to livable wages and that youth have after school activities, are a couple large solutions. This is why I say yes, gun restrictions and law changes, but this is truly the hard work because it requires money to be invested where it is most needed.”

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