The Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, a Memphis pastor, and Nashville physician Dr. Kelsey Gastineau have witnessed first-hand the impact of gun violence in Tennessee.
Turner recently held a newborn baby boy in his arms to offer a blessing after the shooting death of his father, a young parishioner of the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church killed as he returned home after returning from a family vacation. Gastineau, a pediatric hospitalist, has spent her career treating young victims and publishing research.
Both are now part of a new partnership between Tennessee clergy and pediatricians to launch a statewide public health campaign aimed at ending gun violence through education and policy changes, driven by data.
“Who better than to work together,” said Rev. Turner, founder of the African American Clergy Collective of Tennessee, which has teamed up with the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on the campaign.
Pastors and pediatricians found themselves at the same rallies and press conferences at the state capitol this summer, calling for policy action after the mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school claimed the lives of three children and three adults leant greater urgency to calls for gun reform.
Those efforts ultimately failed to sway a majority of lawmakers during a specially called legislative session in August.
Dr. Jason Yaun, a Memphis pediatrician who is president of the 1,000-plus member Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said pediatricians have long advocated for evidence-based policies to address gun violence.
“We’ve seen a public health approach be successful on other issues,” Yaun said, citing the reduction in motor vehicle deaths with laws mandating seat belts and child safety seats.
One such message will be about secure storage of firearms, said Gastineau, the Nashville pediatrician.
The partnership will also advocate for a law declaring gun violence a public health emergency, advocate for more data sharing between law enforcement and public health officials and work with the Sycamore Institute, a Tennessee think tank, to produce original research on gun violence.
The impact of gun violence is long term on victims and families, said Gastineau, whose research is focused on firearm injury prevention in youth. Children who survive gun violence are far more likely to be hospitalized multiple times after their original injury and suffer long term mental and physical trauma.
“Kids come to the emergency room for all kinds of reason, flu, infections,” she said. “The difference with fire arm injuries is they are entirely preventable. We’re just taking care of way too many children with firearm injuries.”
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