A Community Pediatrics Bulletin: Asking Saves Kids from Gun Violence

Written by

March 5, 2020

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines community pediatrics as the “practice of promoting and integrating the positive social, cultural and environmental influences on children’s health.” Traditional clinical pediatrics is not sufficient to take on problems such as gun violence, high infant mortality rates, obesity, or exposure to lead and other environmental hazards. Community pediatricians participate in public health activities for children, adolescents and young adults, in partnership with other community leaders.  Such community-based services may improve the health of many children, rather than one child at a time. Many pediatricians in Maryland believe that creative solutions by concerned communities make a difference. 

As a community pediatrician in Maryland and Mom to two adult children, I believe we can ASK (Asking Saves Kids) about firearms safety practices in our neighborhoods. When my son was two years old, a relative left a handgun in her open purse on a coffee table at my parent’s home. I was standing across from my curious toddler when I saw him pulling something metallic out of a purse. My heart stopped when I saw the handgun. I focused on calmly and quickly removing it from his tiny grasp. I immediately informed my parents and asked my relative to remove the gun from the house, which she did without argument. Ten years later, I became a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). The year was 1997, only a short time after Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, which deterred CDC from funding and conducting gun-safety research. Today, I am a federal-government retiree (from the CDC and FDA), and the owner of a consulting business, TheMcKibbenGroupLLC.com, in Silver Spring, MD. 

For the past year, I have volunteered for Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence (MDPGV.org), an advocacy group, and supported them to develop pediatric child-access-prevention (CAP) projects in Maryland with other pediatricians. We are applying for grants for the Pediatric Child-Access Prevention (PCAP) project to inform parents of their legal responsibilities, if they are gun owners, to safely store their lethal weapons; and to provide technical information and community referrals to help them succeed. Since 2012, the AAP has recommended that guns be stored locked and unloaded with ammunition stored separately (also locked). Federal laws require safety devices to be sold with each gun; but does not require their use. Such devices may be also be used as an additional barrier to child access, but are not recommended to replace safer storage practices. “Certified” gun safety courses marketed to children and their parents also are not a substitute for safe gun storage, whether or not legally required in a particular state or locale.

Well established studies from reliable source are not ambiguous: Guns do not make us safer and the safest places for children is in homes and communities without ready access to unlocked and loaded guns. However, safer gun storage practices, may prevent and reduce the frequency of domestic homicides, suicides (especially in impulsive teens), and unintentional firearm deaths and injuries. Many children live in homes with guns that are unlocked and loaded; and often they know where the guns are stored. Recent research from Dr. Monika Goyal, an academic emergency medicine physician at Children’s National Hospital and her colleagues, tells us that “states with stricter gun laws have fewer pediatric firearm-related deaths.”

On behalf of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence for 2020, I provided written and oral testimony in support of House Bill 636 and Senate Bill 646 in February/March 2020. These bills will strengthen Maryland’s current child access prevention/gun storage law, which was cited in over 100 court cases in the first year of enactment, according to State Senator Will Smith, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee which reviews such laws. But loopholes remain which have left children at risk, as explained to legislators by a courageous mother, Ms. Melissa Willey, who lost her daughter Jaelynn when a 17-year old boy gained legal access to a loaded firearm. If passed the new law will be named after her daughter.

What can you do?

Place a Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence Carry-Free Zone sticker on your front door to remind your family and friends to ASK (Asking Saves Kids). If you need talking points for persuasion, an excellent site is the HealthyChildren.org, Is There a Gun Where Your Child Plays?, supported by the AAP and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Is-There-A-Gun-Where-Your-Child-Plays-Asking-Can-Save-Lives.aspx  Some businesses in our communities already have Carry-Free Zone stickers; including, Ben and Jerry’s, McGinty’s, CVS, and other stores in downtown Silver Spring, as part of a Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence Carry-Free Business Coalition. Thank them for their support!  And, remember to ASK your neighbors or those who manage settings where your children play to display a Carry-Free Zone sticker also. 

When asking for your Carry-Free Zone stickers ( by using the Contact Form on the website, MDPGV.org), consider making a donation to MDPGV.org to support their important work.

Call or tweet your Maryland legislators to support H.B. 636/S.B.646 (Jaelynn’s Law). Talking points for your advocacy are on  the Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence Handout, entitled, Safe Storage and Child Access Prevention Saves Lives, posted here: https://themckibbengroupllc.com/community-pediatrics

Thank you!