I am a pediatrician and mom in Kansas City, and the issue of gun violence prevention is incredibly important to me. In my work, I specialize in the care of sick and premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. Gun violence impacts more of my young patients and their families than you would think.
I will never forget receiving a call to the emergency room, where I saw a young woman who was 29 weeks pregnant. She had a gunshot wound and was bleeding out in front of me. My obstetrician colleagues performed an emergency cesarean section as the mother was dying, doing everything they could to save her baby’s life.
I put a breathing tube in the baby’s airway while the nurses did compressions on his tiny chest. We gave intravenous medicine to help jump-start his heart. Despite these efforts, both the mother and the baby died. The enormous feeling of loss was palpable throughout the ER as we walked away.
A story like this is not uncommon. In fact, I recently returned to the emergency room for another pregnant gunshot wound victim. Fortunately for this mother, when she was taken to the operating room for her wound and possible delivery, the surgeons found the bullet had luckily only grazed her. She was able to recover and continue the last two months of her pregnancy.
In the neonatal intensive care unit, I cared for one extremely premature baby who lost his father to homicide just before he was born. It is possible the stress of this trauma contributed to his mother delivering prematurely. This baby was too small and too sick to survive.
Beyond my work, I also feel compelled to speak out as a mother. I grew up practicing tornado drills while I was going to school in southwest Missouri. Today, my young daughters practice active shooter drills in their classrooms.
Gun violence abruptly takes young lives far too soon. Survivors and their families grapple with the lifelong mental, emotional and physical health impacts of the trauma and grief they endure.
We turn to our nation’s elected leaders to do something. Time and again, we are left without progress, meaningful conversation or reform. We can and must do better for our children.
The good news is that we know what could work, and Missouri has a key role to play.
As a pediatrician, I understand how evidence-based research leads to prevention and intervention strategies. It helps get us closer to answers about complex questions. While mass shootings make national headlines, the daily, systemic toll of gun violence by suicide, homicide and accidental shootings cannot be overlooked. We need to better understand the causes of all forms of gun violence if we are to prevent it.
To do that, we must address gun violence the same way we do any other public health threat: through science-based research. Robust research on car accidents has led to lifesaving interventions without preventing people from being able to drive. The same approach can help reduce gun violence in our communities.
That is why I am urging our own U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who chairs the relevant appropriations subcommittee, to support the request of medical and public health experts to provide $50 million for public health research on gun violence prevention in the appropriations bill to fund the government. The House of Representatives has already voted for this funding.
While I am disappointed that the appropriations bill Blunt authored and released this past week does not include this request, I urge him to support including this critical funding in any final funding legislation that Congress negotiates.
When we know better, we do better. We cannot wait any longer to take commonsense action that can save lives, and I urge Blunt to lead on this important issue and ensure that Congress provides the money for this vital public health research.
Dena K. Hubbard is a pediatrician and neonatologist in Kansas City. She is also public policy chair of Kansas Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.