RICHMOND, Va. -- Every day, 87 children, teens and young adults in the United States are killed or hurt by guns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. One local doctor is working to stop that trend.
It was December of 2019 inside the VCU Emergency Department when first-year resident of pediatrics, Dr. Hannah Hollon, said she noticed a pattern.
"I noticed just like, once a week, we would have a kid come into the emergency department with a gunshot wound. Some more serious than others," said Dr. Hollon. "A lot of it accidental, kids kind of playing, like an older kid playing with a gun that went off, or, you know, even babies, younger kids, where they're just wrong place wrong time."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 4.6 million U.S. children lived with unlocked, loaded guns. But Dr. Hollon is working to change that.
She and a group of residents created a firearm safety curriculum, educating medical students on gun safety and teaching them to use that knowledge when speaking with families.
"At every well-child visit from two months up, until I mean, we see kids up until 22, we should be talking about safety, every visit," said Dr. Hollon. "I've tried to train residents to ask more like open-ended questions. You know, like, if you have a firearm in the home, how do you store it?
Dr. Hollon is taking that a step further, working with VCU Police to provide gun locks for any family in need of one when coming in for their appointment.
"If you're going to be asking the question, you should have something to do about it," said Dr. Hollon.
Since March of 2020, Dr. Hollon said the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU has handed out close to 250 gunlocks. Chief John Venuti, the Associate Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police for VCU and VCU Health, knew the impact that these locks could have on families.
"I oversaw violent crime in Richmond for seven years. I’ve been intimately involved in gun violence," said Chief Venuti. "Injury to children with firearms is 100 percent preventable if you secure your firearm. Children are not going to get injured if you properly lock your firearm, so it doesn’t function. Children are not going to get injured. So, it’s extremely important."
For Dr. Hollon, another part of the solution was empowering families to ask other households where there child was visiting if there is a gun inside their home.
"Just like if your kid has a really severe peanut allergy. You're going to say, 'hey, my kid has a peanut allergy, like, do you guys have nuts in the home?' Treating it, just trying to normalize it as much as possible, even though of course, I understand it's a polarizing issue," Dr. Hollon said.
More than one-third of unintentional shootings of children take place in the homes of their friends, neighbors, or relatives, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Hollon hoped normalizing those conversations would help keep children away from the trigger and out of emergency rooms.
"Because kids really are curious. And then again, with the mental health epidemic, right now, it's very important to talk about it," said Dr. Hollon.