FORT WORTH — Dr. Daniel Guzman remembers the patient who inspired his mission to stop kids from getting hurt by guns.
A 4-year-old child came into the emergency room at Cook Children’s Medical Center one day several years ago with a gunshot wound in the head, Guzman recalled. The child had accidentally been shot and died, he recalled.
Looking down at the child on the gurney, Guzman said he felt he had to do something.
“Seeing that kid, that 4-year-old — my oldest was 4 at the time — it was one of those instances where it all just came together,” he said. “With me owning guns at home, I was like, ‘We’ve got to do something more.’ I have to personally do something more than just allow this to continue to happen.”
Guzman, a physician at Cook Children’s, created the hospital’s “Aim for Safety” program, which tries to teach parents and children what they can do to prevent accidental gun injuries at home.
On Sept. 15, five children were rushed to the ER with gunshot wounds from four separate shootings. Veteran staff said they couldn’t remember a day like that in the hospital’s history.
Read more: At Cook Children’s, 5 back-to-back gunshot victims make for a traumatic day in ER
Most of the gun injuries treated by hospital staff that day were believed to be unintentional. The day felt like an “emotional roller coaster,” Guzman said.
“You feel like you’re doing so much, but then you have these days that just fall out of the sky like this,” he said. “You’re like, ‘What happened? What are we doing wrong that we can’t fix this or help make this better?’”
In total, about 40 percent to 45 percent of the gun injuries Cook Children’s sees are either unintentional or inflicted by another child, Guzman said.
As part of the program, Guzman has brought in about two dozen children for a study examining parents’ reactions to what kids do when they find a gun.
For the study, kids spend about 15 minutes in a room in which there are three guns — real guns, but ones that have been altered so that they can’t be loaded or fired. Parents are in another room, where they can see and hear their children in real time.
Guzman said when the children come across one of the guns, 95% of the kids do what the hospital expects them to: They pick up the gun and look straight down the barrel.
“It’s the parents that I want to have this visceral change in their body when they see their child pick up a gun, look down the barrel,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s enough to say to them, ‘I need to do something different.’”
The families were selected for the study because they all had a gun “sitting out somewhere” in the home, Guzman said. And all the parents involved had taught their children not to touch a gun if they find one.
“We can teach our kids over and over and over, don’t pick up a gun, don’t touch a gun,” Guzman said.
In the Cook Children’s ER, hospital staffers see the outcome after the “one time” a child does decide to pick up and manipulate a gun, even if they’ve been taught not to.
But that’s not the child’s fault, Guzman said: ”It’s the access.”
He wants to teach parents that these kinds of tragedies can happen to anyone if guns aren’t secured.
“We all feel like we’re immune. It’s not going to be us, until it is us,” he said. “You hear that so many times in these rooms. ‘I didn’t think it was going to happen to me.’”
The 3 T’s of firearm safety and children
Dr. Guzman teaches the following tips to keep kids safe from unintentional gun injuries.
Talk: Talk to your extended family, neighbors and friends.
Teach: Teach your children about firearm safety. If they encounter a gun, they should stop, don’t touch, run away and tell an adult.
Take: Take action and store your firearms properly. Take personal responsibility for children’s safety.
SOURCE: Cook Children’s Medical Center