March Fourth: A Coalition to Keep Kids Safe

Lelach Rave, MD, FAAP
Jerry Eichner, MD, FAAP

WCAAP Legislative Committee

A ban on military-style assault weapons has been a goal of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, with support from the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics for many years. It is not a new concept nationally either. There was a federal ban on assault weapons in the U.S. from 1994-2004. During that time, there were 70% fewer mass shooting fatalities. But now deaths from firearms are the most common cause of death for children in the United States.

Following the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois during last year’s Fourth of July parade, one of the survivors of that shooting, a pediatrician named Emily Lieberman spearheaded the formation of March Fourth, a nonpartisan coalition to resurrect the federal ban on assault weapons. Rightly approaching the issue as a public health problem, we were able to join the group of 60 physicians from 25 states, meeting with 20 Senators over two days in December to advocate for the ban, which had already passed the House of Representatives. Many of us were pediatricians, but a fair number of emergency medicine physicians and trauma surgeons were there too. Our numbers included Dr. Roy Guerrero, the sole pediatrician from Uvalde, Texas; Dr. Joseph Sakran of “this IS our lane” fame; and Fred Gutenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was a victim of the Parkland High School shooting. Also present were physicians who had been on the front lines of several other mass shootings in recent years.

In speaking with Senator Maria Cantwell, who has not yet agreed to co-sponsor the bill, we were struck by her reaction to hearing our stories. As pediatricians, it is obvious to us that this bill is a public health issue. We are not against guns, we are against bullet holes in our patients. It is the simple fact that assault weapons are tools of war. We do not have tanks sitting in our driveways. And we cannot have assault weapons in our private homes or on our streets. No matter how skilled the medical team is, we cannot save you if you are shot with an assault weapon. These weapons leave bodies unrecognizable. The bullets cause damage that the most experienced surgeons cannot repair. And when guns are killing more children than anything else in our country, it is our responsibility as pediatric health care professionals to speak out.

Sadly, the 117th Congress came to an end without the Senate taking action on the Assault Weapons Ban bill (S736) and without Senator Cantwell signing on as a co-sponsor (Senator Murray is a co-sponsor of the legislation). While the national fight isn’t over – and President Biden continues to push for the ban – the 118th Congress will need to take this effort up again. On a state level, we know that Attorney General Bob Ferguson is planning to push for an assault weapon ban in Washington this legislative session and that such a ban was just passed in Oregon this fall. There will certainly be opportunities for us to share our expertise, framing this as the public health issue we know it to be. The kids are counting on us to help combat their biggest killer.