As a pediatrician who has worked in West Virginia for many years, I must voice my extreme concern about the risks posed to our children and youth should Senate Bill 317 be passed.As Charleston Councilman Tom Lane noted in the March 2 Gazette-Mail, this bill would allow "a person with a valid concealed handgun permit into a municipally owned recreation facility," including places for "sports" and for "housing an after-school program or other similar facility where children are regularly present." By that definition, even some preschool Head Start programs would fall under this designation. It is important that the danger of Senate Bill 317 be recognized by our citizens who can then encourage our lawmakers to vote against it SB 317. This bill would apply to all West Virginia municipalities, not just Charleston.Councilman Lane notes that the perpetrator in the case of the Newtown tragedy, would have been entitled to a West Virginia "concealed handgun permit" if he were only a few months older and living in West Virginia). Apart from the consideration of intentional harm that might occur in the above scenario, the potential for accidental injury is exponentially greater once guns are introduced into the environment. It simply is not necessary to make a safe environment into a dangerous one.As a pediatrician trained in critical care pediatrics, I have had the difficult experience of witnessing the devastation to families that can occur after a firearm injury to a child, the worst of which is irreversible brain and spinal cord injury. Such injuries have astronomical burdens to the family and to the larger society.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics reports in it's 2012 policy statement on Preventing Fire-Arm-Related Injuries in Children and Youth: "the absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent fire-arm related injuries in children and adolescents." This statement is not meant to be an indictment of gun-ownership in the home, and the statement provides guidelines for gun-safety at home. At the same time however, in a country in which our children (ages 5-14 years) experience unintentional firearm injuries at rates 10 times higher than other developed countries, there is little to justify introducing firearms into our community centers, after-school programs, or other similar facilities.Concerned citizens around the state should call their lawmakers in the House of Delegates and urge them to vote against SB317. The defeat of SB317 will help keep firearms out of our children's after-school programs, day-care centers, community centers, sports facilities and other such municipally-owned facilities.Contacting lawmakers in your county and asking them to vote against this bill may go further than you think in view of a recent Daily Mail poll cited by Mr. Lane. You can find telephone number and emails of your representatives at legis.state.wv.usMcJunkin, a Charleston pediatrician, is chairman of the Injury Prevention Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, West Virginia Chapter.