How VCU pediatricians are working to prevent accidental shootings in the home

RICHMOND, Va. Every day, 87 children, teens and young adults in the United States are killed or injured by firearms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A local doctor is working to stop that trend.

It was December 2019 in the emergency department of the VCU when Dr. Hannah Hollon, a first-year pediatric nurse, said she noticed a pattern.

“I noticed that once a week we would have a child come to the emergency department with a gunshot wound. Some more serious than others,” said Dr. hollon. “A lot of them are by accident, kids playing, like an older kid playing with a gun going off, or, you know, even babies, younger kids, where they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 4.6 million American children lived with unlocked, loaded guns. But dr. Hollon is working to change that.

She and a group of residents created a firearms safety curriculum, educated medical students about gun safety, and taught them to use that knowledge when talking to families.

“Every visit to a good child from two months up to I mean we see children up to 22 years old, we should be talking about safety every visit,” said Dr. hollon. “I’ve tried to train residents to ask more open-ended questions. You know, if you have a firearm in the house, how do you store it?

dr. Taking it one step further, Hollon works with the VCU Police to provide gun locks to every family that needs one when they come in for their appointment.

“If you’re going to ask the question, you need to do something about it,” said Dr. Hollon.

As of March 2020, Dr. Hollon that Richmond Children’s Hospital at VCU has handed out nearly 250 gunshots. Chief John Venuti, the Associate Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police for VCU and VCU Health, knew the impact these locks can have on families.

“I’ve been overseeing violent crime in Richmond for seven years. I’ve been heavily involved in gun violence,” said Chief Venuti. “Injury to children with firearms is 100 percent preventable if you lock your firearm. Children will not be injured if you lock your firearm properly so that it does not function. Children will not be injured. So it is extremely important.”

for dr. Hollon was another part of the solution to allow families to ask other households where their child was visiting if there was a gun in their home.

“Just like your kid has a really serious peanut allergy. You’re going to say, ‘Hey, my kid has a peanut allergy, do you have any nuts in the house?’ Treating it, just trying to normalize it as much as possible, although of course I understand it’s a polarizing problem,” said Dr. hollon.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than a third of accidental shootings of children take place in the homes of their friends, neighbors or relatives.

dr. Hollon hoped normalizing those conversations would help keep kids away from the trigger and out of the emergency room.

“Because kids are really curious. And again, with the mental health epidemic, right now, it’s really important to talk about it,” said Dr. hollon.

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