Doctors cite increase in gun violence

May 01, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

One victim was a 16-year-old girl who died six days after being shot by a boyfriend who didn't know the gun he pointed at her was loaded. Another was a 3-year-old boy who miraculously recovered after being struck in the head by a stray bullet that came through a window while he was eating dinner in his family's apartment.

Dr. David Nichols, director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, told the victims' stories yesterday as a way to personalize the "numbing" statistics on firearms violence. He followed with an impassioned plea for action.

"We [doctors] believe there is no way we can possibly save all these children. Prevention is the only solution to this problem," Dr. Nichols said at a day-long symposium on "Gun Violence in Maryland: Science and Advocacy for Prevention."

The symposium was co-sponsored by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse and Johns Hopkins University's Office of Religious Life and School of Public Health.

Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the gun control group, said the symposium at Hopkins' Homewood campus was the "kick-off" of a campaign to educate people about the dangers of keeping a gun at home and push for strong gun control legislation during next year's General Assembly.

The public health dimension of gun violence was outlined by two researchers.

Modena Wilson, associate professor of pediatrics at Hopkins, said the number of children killed by firearms in Maryland had jumped from an average of 14 per year from 1979-87 to an average of 22 per year from 1989-91.

The percentage of deaths attributed to homicide jumped from 46 to 67 percent during that period, she said.

Studies indicate that five Maryland youths are injured by gunshots for every one that is killed, Dr. Wilson said.

Dr. Mark L. Rosenberg, of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that assaults haven't increased but fighting is now more likely to involve guns and, thus, involve fatalities.

Dr. Rosenberg said the CDC considers gun violence to be a public health epidemic, like smallpox, that needs to be studied and prevented.

Suicide is an often-overlooked dimension of firearms fatalities, particularly among youths, both researchers said in separate presentations.

In 1989, the last year for which complete figures are available, nearly one-third of the 4,400 youths under the age of 20 who died of gunshot wounds nationally were suicide victims, Dr. Wilson said.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke opened the symposium by renewing his call for "medicalization," formerly "decriminalization," of drug use.

Also included was an afternoon panel discussion on gun laws that was moderated by Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms.

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