I recently read an interesting article about how average people would react if they saw what a trauma surgeon sees every day.
As the chief of trauma at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, a Level II Pediatric Trauma Center in Tacoma, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of a high-velocity bullet on a human body – on a child’s body. It will stay with me for the rest of my life.
And sadly, violence begets violence. I recall having to tell a family their teenager had died following a shooting. I could not save him. The overwhelming grief turned to thoughts of vengeance.
That same night, I had to care for the result of that retribution: another shooting.
The Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida is a devastating loss for our country. The U.S. has the highest incidence of mass shootings in the world. Since Sandy Hook in 2014, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide.
In those episodes, 438 people were shot, 138 of whom were killed. In 2015 the number of deaths from firearms exceeded the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
Trauma is the No. 1 cause of death in children. Gun violence affects children on a daily basis, not just from mass shootings at schools, but from suicide, homicide and accidental shootings.
This is an epidemic of senseless violence, horror and suffering.
It seems each week brings news of yet another tragic shooting. I am ashamed that our country has not responded to these endless school shootings. Our society is starting to normalize these events, but this is crazy, not normal.
I cannot believe my children are practicing active shooter drills. How have we reached this point?
We can’t wait any longer. Firearm violence is a public health threat to our children and one that we must work to address right now.
We can start by advancing legislation that helps keep them safe.
Common-sense solutions to this public health crisis exist: safe storage to keep guns out of the hands of children; universal background checks for all firearm transactions; limits on high-capacity magazines and assault-style weaponry like the gun used in Parkland.
In Washington, it is currently easier to obtain an assault rifle like the one used in Parkland than it is to obtain a handgun. Most residents agree that needs to change.
Senate Bill 6620, which is currently being considered by our Legislature, raises the age limit to purchase semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old and will strengthen our laws so that semi-automatic rifles are no longer easier to purchase than handguns.
In addition, the bill implements some important school safety measures. It creates a program for students to make authorities aware of threats, funds education for schools on how to report threats, and funds efforts to expedite law enforcement response to threats or lockdowns.
As a physician, I can do my best to care for kids after they’ve been shot. But the Legislature has the power to help prevent these shootings from occurring in the first place.
I urge legislators to take the necessary steps to prevent further gun violence. If we look at gun-related deaths and injuries from a public health perspective, it’s clear that SB 6620 is a common-sense approach to make our kids, schools and communities safer from gun violence.
Dr. Mauricio A. Escobar, Jr. is a pediatric surgeon and chief of trauma at Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and a member of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Washington Chapter of the American College of Surgeons.