December 31, 2013

New Year’s Resolutions

Sean Palfrey, MD & Robert Sege, MD
Boston Medical Center & the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics

One year ago, the country was stunned by the shooting at Sandy Hook School. Many of us spent the shattered holiday season trying to make sense of how such a tragedy could happen here and what we should do about it. One year later, we have gained little insight, have argued over many possible solutions but agreed on few, and have done little of substance to reduce the possibility that such an event could happen again.

But there are important resolutions we can all make this New Year to our families, our communities and our country in memory of the 20 children killed in Newtown and the thousands of other children killed by gun violence since then across this country.

The first resolution is to make our own families safer. Most parents safety-proof their homes when their children are small, putting knives away and getting poisons like drain cleaners and rat poisons locked up or out of the house. But as our children grow, explore, experiment and act, sometimes impulsively and sometimes intentionally dangerously, we have to continuously upgrade our safety measures. We need to store all potentially life-threatening things, such as guns, bullets and explosives, far out of reach. For greatest safety, they should be out of all homes and out of our daily lives.

The second resolution is to help all members of our community be safe. Homes, schools and workplaces can all be very stressful. Many people at risk of harming themselves or others may seem calm much of the time, but they may not be inside. We know normal children can be naughty and teens will act in risky ways, but we can all  recognize when someone crosses the line and shows truly dangerous behaviors – bullies, challenges, insults, hurts people, harms animals, is a mean drunk or surrenders to drugs that destroy their self-control. Each of us, their families, friends, teachers, and doctors must have the courage and wisdom to identify and help these people on the edge before they strike out and hurt anyone, or many. Professionals are available and waiting to help.

The third resolution is to make our country safer. We have the power and responsibility to speak out to our legislators and ask them to help us build a safer country. Since the Newtown massacre a number of states have acted to require background checks before gun sales and ban military-style assault weapons, but other states are moving in the opposite direction. These are issues that need broad state and national action, and it is the job of our legislators to act on our behalf. Let them know that the lives of our children and friends really matter to us and that they must act to safeguard them.

In memory of the children who died this past year we can at least make these basic New Year’s resolutions to save the lives of our children in coming years.