Dr. Raul Arguello, a father of two of the lucky children who survived the Sandy Hook school shooting in December, traveled from his Connecticut to Washington, D.C. this Sunday to represent the United Physicians of Newtown at The American Academy of Pediatrics 2013 Legislative Conference. The purpose of the conference is for pediatricians to learn advocacy skills, state and federal policy priorities impacting child health, including poverty, and to hear from federal officials.
However, Tuesday, a group of more than 110 pediatricians, from across the country, will also convene on Capitol Hill to discuss an issue critical to them — gun violence prevention and keeping children safe.
“The attendees are so passionate,” says Dr. Arguello, a pediatrician from Danbury Hospital, who is equally impassioned. “I’m going to meet with my congressmen, and legislatures, and represent the 90 percent that want background checks [on guns].”
Dr. Arguello says gun legislation has been a discussion for more than 30 years. Nothing has been done, and since then, the number of mass murders have increased.
“What happened in Newtown was horrendous,” he says. “If we can actually send the message that we care for the kids, and every life counts, that would be a humongous success. The status quo is unacceptable.”
The first step, he says, is to move forward on gun safety legislation to protect the children.
“It’s not about the Second Amendment — we’re not saying take it away or take guns from people,” says Dr. Arguello. “People have to be responsible. We have to address it. If you have a gun, you have to keep it locked. If you have a gun in the house, keep it safe from kids.”
Dr. Gary Fernando, also at the conference, tweeted, “Of all the rights bestowed upon us by our Constitution, one of the most paramount is the right to “Domestic Tranquility. #legcon13”
Secondly, Dr. Arguello says, as physicians, they realize how important data research is.
“We want to support CDC [Centers for Disease Control] to do real research to know what’s going in our community and prevent it — research has been available but only to a small degree,” says Dr. Arguello stating that to his knowledge only 18 states report their data findings due to lack of funding. “They could be doing very well or very poorly, but we don’t know. We have to support data research to see where we are.”
And lastly, he says mental health issues need to be seriously addressed.
“One in every 5 kids has mental health issues,” says Dr. Arguello. “With mental health, if you address it really young, you can have great outcomes. This is very basic. We want people to have immediate access.”
He says, currently, a patient has to wait an average of seven-and-a-half weeks to see a mental health professional.
“If you have a kid that is suicidal, you don’t have the luxury to wait that long,” says Dr. Arguello. “As pediatricians, we’ve been advocating this for years.”
Oftentimes, people can’t afford to pay out of pocket for mental health care.
“We have to make sure that mental health is considered — it is a real issue and it should be covered,” says Dr. Arguello, advocating for insurance companies to cover this care. “We [also] want our legislatures to also provide loan repayment programs to psychiatrists and psychologists.”
Representing Newtown, where a mass shooting killed 20 first graders and six educators, Dr. Arguello says he has a huge responsibility.
“I didn’t realize how much of a voice I have, but when I say I’m from Newtown, they listen,” he says. “They probably won’t listen for long, but right now I have their attention.”
He says the momentum is growing.
Dr. Raquel Hernandez, a general pediatrician and mother of three from Tampa, Fla., tweeted, “We need more modern-day heroes like Mayor Bloomberg to partner with us against gun violence. http://n.pr/10ipPb1 #legcon13”
Dr. Arguello agrees that the number of kids lost to gun violence can be prevented if legislatures act.
“What we want is a united voice,” he says. “We’re never going to go away. We’re going to do the right thing for the kids. They need to understand — we are not going away.”