When police in Texas City, Texas, arrived at a suburban apartment on August 7, they found an eight-year-old boy who was seriously injured. He had been shot in the face, and the shooter was still in the home. His seven-year-old cousin pulled the trigger.
A helicopter swept the victim 40 miles north to a Houston hospital, where he was taken into emergency surgery in critical condition. He is alive, and poised to elude a place among the 3,000 U.S. children who will die this year as a result of gunshot wounds. In 2009, 114 kids died as a result of unintentional gunshots—almost all of them in their own homes, and most commonly shot by other children.
In recent years a mantle to prevent these shootings has been taken up by physicians. Most professional governing bodies now recommend that doctors ask patients some variation on “Is there a gun in your home?” If the answer is yes, the physician is meant to ask about it being properly secured.
The American Academy of Pediatrics likens counseling on gun safety to counseling on lead paint avoidance or seat belt use. Pediatricians, the group’s recent policy statement reads, are “urged to counsel parents about the dangers of allowing children and adolescents to have access to guns inside and outside the home.” Doctors are encouraged to promote trigger locks, lock boxes, and gun safes. Some distribute cable locks. The American College of Physicians is similarly proactive, calling gun violence a public health issue "requiring immediate attention." The group, of which most practicing internal-medicine doctors are members, declared in its recent position statement: "Physicians must become more active in counseling patients about firearm safety." The college implores doctors to open that conversation by asking patients (with and without children in their homes) about gun ownership.