How Parkland Drove Me to Advocacy
Four years ago, I was dropping my oldest daughter off at kindergarten. It was two days after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 students’ and staff members’ lives were stolen in a mass shooting. For the first time that morning, I saw an armed police officer patrolling the drop off-line. And then I saw my oldest baby get out of the car with her bright pink unicorn backpack on and walk into her elementary school none the wiser. At this point in my life I was engaged in politics enough to be a registered voter and to have the numbers of my Senators and Representative in my phone. But my advocacy didn’t extend beyond leaving voicemails in their offices. So that morning I called my Senators. And while I was talking to a staffer in Senator Tim Scott’s office about my frustration with his lack of a plan of action in response to the tragic school shooting and his terrible record on common sense gun legislation, I became overwhelmed with emotion. In that moment, I felt scared, frustrated, and angry. I felt momentarily hopeless, but then was compelled to act.
Within 2 weeks I was sitting in my first Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter meeting. Despite serving my community as a pediatrician for almost 10 years at that point, I had never engaged with my community to address this leading cause of death for children. As I sat through that meeting I realized that I could turn my anger spurred by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, into meaningful action. What’s more, I realized as a pediatrician I had a platform that could help this organization accelerate change. That’s the moment when I connected my anger and my frustration and my building passion to fix a problem to my role as a pediatrician. This group in this room needed my voice. And that’s what I gave them.
4 years later, I am a candidate for Congress in South Carolina. As a mom and a pediatrician, I believe we have a moral imperative to act and I am done waiting for our elected officials to do the right thing. Common ground on this issue abounds. Whether you are a gun owner, a Republican or a Democrat, there is much on which we agree. Too often, the dialogue is driven by the most extreme among us, making constructive conversation a near impossibility. They create a false dichotomy between supporting the second amendment and supporting common sense gun safety legislation. I support the second amendment AND believe there is an urgent need to pass common sense gun safety laws.
My sense of urgency on this issue comes from my dual roles as a pediatrician and a mother. When you have seen what I and so many of my physician and nursing colleagues have seen you can’t stay on the sidelines and you can’t stay silent. Imagine caring for a 3 year old, beautiful little girl, whose face is permanently disfigured due to an unintentional gunshot wound that could have been prevented with a secure storage law. Or a 17 year old boy who is now paralyzed from his second gunshot wound that could have been prevented with federal funding for hospital-based violence intervention programs that address the root causes of community gun violence. As a pediatrician, I refuse to accept these children’s injuries as the status quo. I refuse to simply go on to the patient next door. I refuse to stay on the sidelines. To be frank, I have never been particularly interested in a conversation about guns, I am, however, keenly interested in a conversation about how we can get fewer bullet holes in children.
The solutions are not extreme or controversial - they are common sense. And they are supported by a wide majority of Americans. We need background checks on all gun sales. Too many loopholes currently exist that result in dangerous people getting their hands on guns unlawfully. Secondly, we need a federal secure storage law to prevent unintentional shootings, youth suicide and school gun violence. Lastly, we need federal funding for hospital and community-based gun violence prevention programs so that patients like my paralyzed 17 year old can have a fighting chance for a better life.
I know we all want the brightest future possible for our children. Addressing gun violence is one way to ensure that many more of our children can have that bright future. Let’s get out of our corners and find some common ground so that gun violence is no longer the leading cause of death for children in this country.
Today I will continue to honor the lives stolen four years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with my action. Please join me in building a safer future for our children.