One of the books I’m reading right now is called “The Other” by Wes Moore. It chronicles the story of two men with the same name, similar backgrounds, growing up fatherless in a Baltimore neighborhood. I was drawn to this story, because I often engage in discussions about “choice” and why some of us end up choosing the wrong path and how much empathy is deserved. In the book, How Will You Measure Your Life, (see summary here) my favorite section is “Staying Out of Jail.” The chapter begins with a quote from C.S. Lewis, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Earlier today, I finally decided to answer one of those “No Caller ID” calls (the wrong path). My phone has been ringing off the hook with these calls. Just as I suspected, it was a democratic volunteer calling to ask me to donate into a fund to support gun control and background check legislation. Because I didn’t want to get up from the couch (NYC had a mini snow storm and I was feeling very cozy in the depths of my loveseat) to get my wallet, I told her that I didn’t have any money to donate (don't judge me). Then, she kindly persuaded me to give a reduced amount and told me some statistics about how many people are killed by gun violence in the US. The passion in her voice was convincing and she mentioned Gabby Giffords. I got up and donated…
After the phone call, I started to think about Hadiya Pendleton, a special young woman whose life was tragically cut short on January 29, 2013. She was a 15-year-old girl from Chicago, Illinois who was shot and killed in a park, just after taking her final exams. Her story sparked national attention, even in the flurry of murders that happen in Chicago, because she had just performed at President Obama’s inauguration and First Lady Michelle Obama attended her funeral. There is a Facebook page dedicated to Hadiya, R.I.P Hadiya Pendleton with over 193K likes, a hashtag #wearorange to demonstrate against gun violence, and a foundation in her name, Hadiya's Promise, to inspire people to work for peace and put down guns.
I often question why Hadiya's story resonated with me so much. Even now, I find this difficult to write. However, I realize that just like the similarities of the two men in Wes Moore's story, Hadiya's life was my own. When I was 15-years-old I lived in the midwest and attended Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. I hung out with friends in the park after final exams, played sports, gave my parents a few headaches and enjoyed walking to Godfather's Pizza or Breugger's Bagels. Although, violent crime is not rampant in Des Moines like it is in Chicago, we know that violence can happen anywhere.
Gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis, especially where children are concerned. According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 18,000 children and teens are injured or killed each year due to gun violence. In NYC, I rarely watch the local news because it used to depress me to hear about the constant acts of violence. Then, there are the national news stories: 9 yr old accidentally shoots her gun instructor, 1-year-old boy was accidentally shot by his sister, and 5-year-old accidentally shoots his 4-year-old brother...
In addition to these tragedies are the mass shootings, from Sandy Hook to Charleston to Orlando. Many Americans, including me, thought that these horribly tragic events would spur our representatives to some sort of action, to finally come together in a nonpartisan way and create some legislation to help ensure these events would never happen again. I was quite surprised by the response from the NRA and others after Sandy Hook, and I knew then, this country had a long way to go before creating some commonsense reforms around gun violence.
The AMA has recently adopted a policy on gun violence declaring it "a public health crisis," and will lobby to overturn legislation that prevents research in this area. But, this is not the first declaration of its kind. In 1993 the journal Health Affairs published an article on gun violence that stated, "The current epidemic of violence in America threatens not only our physical health but also the integrity of basic social institutions such as the family, the communities in which we live, and our health care system."
In public health, we know there are many factors that spur gun violence. We also know we are a long way from preventing deaths due to gun violence and dealing effectively with the persistent impact this violence has had on our society. However, we can take action and support organizations like Hadiya's Promise and the Brady Center that are doing great work in the fight against gun violence.