March 18, 2018, La Crosse Tribune

As a critical care pediatrician, I have the heart-wrenching experience of caring for children who die in childhood. I know how indescribably painful this tragic loss is for parents, families and our communities. We experience a deep-seated need to give and nourish life and to see our children thrive and fully live their lives after we have done our best to protect them.

We all know the central human experience of wanting and needing to protect our children. No matter where we are on any political spectrum, we share this deep, fundamental human need.

But children say they don’t want to be afraid to go to school. Parents say they are becoming afraid to send them. And educators want to teach in safe environments.

But guns are getting in the way.

We hear people say guns aren’t the problem, that people are.

We know we need to work together to raise our children and to give them life. But we fear there are some individuals who do not want this same thing. We don’t know why. We imagine many reasons. Fear complicates our challenge: How are we to manage our guns in the community that our children need?

Good governance can solve this problem. We know families in other countries do not have to send their children to school with fear that they might die from gun violence. We know the rates of childhood gun-related death in our country, and we know that the vast majority of communities in our world do not live with such senseless danger. We don’t need to, either.

Our grandparents and great grandparents have shown us how to solve this.

Just a hundred years ago families had normal experiences of losing children to disease and accidents in ways that are no longer normal today.

Our communities working together, and our good governance of years gone by have learned how to provide ever-improving public health care. The once-common tragedy of children dying in childhood has become uncommon.

Today, we can protect our children, just like our parents and grandparents before us. We can do this by meeting and talking with neighbors in our communities to find the way to protect our children from injury and death from guns.

Yes, indeed, it is not the guns, it is us.

We can structure our common life together to decrease the risks of injury for our children. We need to separate our children from the proximity of dangerous things. It does not matter what those dangerous things are.

It could be disease, it could be roads and speeding vehicles, it could be toxic substances, it could be uncaring adults, it could be so many things that are dangerous. And what do we do? We separate these things from the proximity of our children growing up.

We know that guns are dangerous. People who like guns know this. People who don’t like guns know this. We just need to decide how we as a community will keep guns from the proximity of our children like we as a human family have always done.

As a doctor, I meet families whose children die from disease, and so what do we do? We protect our children from disease by improved preventive health care. I meet children who die from poison and intoxication and so we what do we do? We protect our children by removing dangerous substances from their world. I see children who die from accidents and so what do we do? We protect our children by building safer roads and more protective vehicles and by establishing regulations for the safe use of cars.

We need to do the same for our guns. We need to decide as a community of neighbors how we are going to remove the proximity of this danger from the world that our children grow up in and need to explore. The highest office in our democratic governance is the office of citizen. It is our role, our responsibility, our duty to make our governance serve the good of all our children so that they can grow up without fear of being killed by a gun.

We are right. Our gun problem is at its origin a people problem. And it is for us to believe that we are able to govern ourselves in a way to solve this problem for the next generations.

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