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How many mass shootings will it take?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  September 17, 2013 08:57 AM

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How many mass shootings will it take before we take action?

Today the news is full of stories about how a man took guns to the Washington Navy Yard and started shooting, killing 12 people before he was killed by police. We still don't know why. But what sticks out in the coverage is the fact that the shooter had used a gun in anger at least once before: he shot the back tires of a construction worker's car parked near his home. He also shot through the floor of the apartment above him; he told the police it went off while he was cleaning it, but the woman who lived in that apartment said that he had confronted her about noise in her apartment and that she had been frightened of him before the incident.

He also apparently was discharged from the military due to concerns about his conduct.

This kind of stuff should be a red flag. It should stop someone from buying weapons (which the shooter apparently did somewhat recently), or at least slow them down. It should trigger (excuse the pun) some sort of evaluation. Something should happen when someone uses a gun in anger or has a history of conduct problems.

It wasn't children who were killed this time, but next time it could be. As we get closer to the anniversary of the Newtown shooting, as a pediatrician and mother I am really freaked out by news like this. I have children and patients who are out in the world. They go to schools and to navy yards and to movie theaters and shopping malls. That someone could shoot them randomly is terrifying to me.

Especially when there are things we could do to prevent it.

I get that those children and patients who are out in the world could also get hit by cars or get sick from bad food or otherwise be hurt. I know that guns aren't the only danger out there. And I am not--repeat NOT--saying that people shouldn't have the right to bear arms. 

But we have traffic safety laws and seat belts and food inspections and all sorts of other laws and safeguards...and when things happen that show us that we need new traffic lights or better seat belts or whatever we do something to strengthen those safeguards. These mass shootings are a sign that we need to strengthen the safeguards. 

We need better background checks--and better ongoing surveillance of people who own or have access to guns, for a start. The Newtown shooter had mental health problems; while it was his mother who bought the guns, a better surveillance system might have picked up on the fact that he had access to them. 

I don't pretend to know everything we should do to help keep people safe from terrible events like what happened yesterday in Washington. I am not an expert on guns or gun safety. I am just a mother and a doctor, and I am scared for my children, for everyone's children.

We can do better. I know we can.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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