Kadner: Doctor eyes crusade to stop child shootings
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org December 17, 2012 10:22PM
George Harris, president of the medical staff at Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, wants to raise awareness about gun violence in the United States. | File photo
Updated: January 19, 2013 6:15AM
“Every gunshot victim, every child whose life is lost, is one of our kids.”
Those are the words of George Harris, president of the medical staff at Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, who was concerned about gun violence before the tragedy last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“On Wednesday, before the school shooting, I asked our staff to put together statistics on the number of kids who are gunshot victims seen in our trauma center,” Harris said. “It turns out 19 percent of our pediatric trauma activations are kids 17 or younger.”
In 2011, there were 414 pediatric trauma activations at Christ, which serves as the only Level 1 trauma care unit for the Chicago area south of Cook County Hospital.
Of those, 11 were gunshot victims age 13 and under. There were 60 gunshot victims 14 to 17 years old.
Through September of this year, seven children 13 and under were treated for gunshot wounds at the trauma unit, and 48 were 14 to 17 years old, Harris said.
“People seem to think of these shootings as being only gang-related or black-on-black crime,” he said.
“But they’re not all that way.
“We had one mother come into the ER to see her child, she was a working mom, and she had told her child to stay home after school and not get involved in any gang activity.
“Well, she comes into the ER and starts yelling at her kid and telling him she told him to stay inside and she raised him better than to get involved with gangs.
“It took a police officer to intervene and tell her that her child had not been shot in the street. He had been shot while inside his house doing what his mother told him. He was an innocent victim.”
A study by the Children’s Defense Fund showed that 2,947 children and teens died from gun-related injuries in the U.S. in 2008 and 2,793 in 2009. That’s 229 classrooms of 25 children each.
There were 88 preschoolers killed by guns in 2008, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, and 85 in 2009. That’s about double the number of law enforcement officials killed in the line of duty during those two years.
Being a young child is more dangerous than being a police officer in America.
“We’re hoping to update our figures by the end of the year,” a spokeswoman for the organization said Monday when I asked when the 20 children from Sandy Hook would be added to the list.
Harris believes that while the nation’s attention is focused on the slaughter in Connecticut, the people of the Southland should have been paying attention long ago to the growing numbers of children shot and killed in Chicago and surrounding suburbs.
“It’s not only a tragedy, but an embarrassment to the country that this sort of thing can happen year after year without anyone saying it has to stop,” Harris said. “Do you know how many gun deaths there were in all of Canada last year? Three hundred.”
Harris believes the availability of guns is a large part of the problem but understands that is not likely to change in the near future.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not restricted to regulated militias but a right that belongs to every citizen.
Only a repeal of the Second Amendment is likely to change that and that’s not likely to happen, although there are already calls for stricter laws regarding assault-type weapons and ammo clips.
But guns are only part of the problem.
“We need to look at this as a health and wellness issue,” Harris said. “That was the point I tried to make to my colleagues at the hospital.
“Some of them believe there’s nothing that can be done. That the causes of violence are just too complex. All we can do is treat the children that come in here to the best of our ability.
“I just feel that there’s more that can be done. Education, for one thing. We need to let people know how many of our children are being shot and tell them this is a real threat to the health of our children.”
Harris, who grew up in Oak Lawn, has been a pediatrician for 30 years and believes now is the time for people who care about the issue to come together to advocate for real change.
“I can’t say that I know what that change should be,” he said. “I don’t have an answer. But it has to start with people saying we’re not just going to sit back and watch this happen to our children anymore.
“We can’t say this is just an inner-city problem or just a black problem because it is our problem. It may not be your kid today, but it sure might be your kid tomorrow.”
Harris wants me to encourage the public to get involved.
I’m happy to do that, but as soon as you say “get involved” the natural reaction is “involved in what?”
Some people believe bad parenting is the problem, others blame a decline in moral values and still others point to an increase in violence throughout society.
Many people can agree there’s a problem, but they may not agree on what that problem is.
“Should we just ignore it?” Harris asked. “Accept it as part of our daily routine?
“I find that unacceptable. We can’t say, ‘Oh, well, that’s the price of democracy.’ We can’t let this moment in time pass without calling on people to take action.
“I’m trying to do that in the medical community. I’m hoping others will join us. We have to work together to protect our children.”