COVER STORY - GUEST EDITORIAL
Children Hear the Message of the Gun
Harold Koplewicz, M.D.
What must our children think?
Again and again, a terrible spree of gunfire takes 10, 20, 50 lives. The nation flirts with addressing the elephant in the room — the gun — but as the funerals pass and the shocking pain subsides, we retreat to a stalemate.
What must our children think? They must think it’s open season and nowhere is safe. High school, college, elementary school, church, concert, Walmart, out on the town. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Charleston, Las Vegas, Parkland, and now El Paso and Dayton.
When we fail to act on gun violence, we model a surprisingly un-American attitude: that there is nothing to be done. This should ring false to the nation that has confronted everything from the Great Depression to traffic fatalities to the AIDS epidemic.
As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I can see my field being used as a scapegoat and a cop-out in the fight over gun policy. “Mental health” is trotted out to blame when a shooting occurs. What everyone needs to know is that people with psychiatric disorders are no more likely to be violent than the general population. And the most important risk factor for violence, whether it’s to oneself or to others, or even accidental, is the presence of firearms. They have the capability of magnifying sad stories and making poor decisions irrevocable, whether it’s a person who is angry at his boss or one who feels desperately alienated from his peers.
If lawmakers are serious about the health of our children, they will see that guns are the primary poison that threatens them. Guns are the method of death. We need only look at the statistics from our own states’ different approaches to gun legislation to see how potentially transformative this solution is. According to research at Boston University and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, states with fewer guns have fewer gun deaths. Gun death rates are lowest in states that score high marks on restrictive gun legislation. Across the nation, when firearm regulations are tightened, the second leading cause of death for adolescents changed from homicide to suicide.
A gun in the home is linked to gun violence. I’ll go further: All our children are in a house with a gun, and it’s called America. But the damage is not just in the periodic loss of life. It’s also in the message we send to these children: that we cannot come together to find solutions. And that we don’t mean what we say when we say our children are the most important thing to us. #
Harold Koplewicz is the founder of the Child Mind Institute in NYC.