Nurses mourn schoolchildren and teachers murdered in Texas, say lack of gun control laws clearly threatens public health
As we witness yet another mass shooting, this one taking the lives of at least 19 children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas, the registered nurses of National Nurses United (NNU) and New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) are deeply disturbed by Congress’ refusal to reduce gun violence and ensure safe schools, workplaces, and all areas of society by enacting desperately needed gun control laws. Shamefully, Tuesday’s shooting is the 213th mass shooting in the United States this year alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection organization, and comes just 10 days after a white supremacist shot and killed 10 Black people in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It’s clear that gun violence is a deadly threat to public health in this country,” said Jean Ross, RN and president of NNU, the country’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses. “People can’t go shopping at the supermarket or send their kids to school without fear of getting shot and killed. We all need to be able to feel and be safe: at school, at work, in places of worship, everywhere.”
NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, RN, said, “The trauma of gun violence and especially the mass shootings we have witnessed in recent weeks deeply impacts the victims, survivors, families, first responders, medical professionals who treat the victims, and the entire community. Across the country, nurses, workers, and parents all feel the pain of loss and the despair of knowing too little has changed since the last tragic mass shooting. We need our political leaders to offer more than empty rhetoric — we need real change. Gun violence is a public health emergency, and we need to use every tool possible to remedy it.”
In keeping with nurses’ commitment to promote the health and well-being of all people, NNU has called since 2019 for the ban of assault weapons.
“Assault weapons are incredibly lethal,” said Ross. “These weapons are designed with only one purpose in mind: to kill human beings.”
Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the United States, the American Public Health Association notes. Guns killed more than 45,000 people in the United States in 2020, a 43 percent increase from 10 years earlier. As of 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of death for children and teens up to the age of 19, according to a study from the University of Michigan.
“Our community is still reeling from the racist mass shooting and the bomb threat at the Erie County Department of Health clinic in Buffalo,” said Murnita Bennett, RN, a NYSNA member at Erie County Medical Center. “Now our schools are tightening security in the event of more copycat gun violence. How can we heal from violence when our communities still feel under siege? As a society, we must prioritize saving lives and creating safe, healthy communities for everyone, regardless of zip code. We need our elected leaders to take action.”
Nurses who care for gunshot victims say it is hard for lay people to imagine the damage bullets cause to the human body. Angela Alvarez, a registered nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif. says it is especially difficult for nurses and other medical professionals when a gun victim is a child.
“They haven’t really lived their life yet,” said Alvarez. “It’s just pure sadness. I remember standing in a trauma room, everybody just stood there and cried and held each other. It is such a sad and devastating thing to witness.”
The number of firearms in circulation now stands at nearly 400 million, according to news sources, a number that has nearly tripled since 2000 and that has spiked sharply in the past three years. So-called “gun rights” groups spent nearly $16 million lobbying in 2021. While Gov. Greg Abbott has bragged about Texas having some of the most lax gun laws in the United States, Republican lawmakers in Congress have routinely blocked even moderate federal gun control legislation.
“Nurses advocate for our patients’ health and for public health,” said Ross. “We will be joining efforts to win the gun control reforms we need to make our society safe. This means confronting the extremist agenda of far-right politicians and their gun lobby backers, and it means holding them accountable for disregarding the health and safety of our communities.”
The New York State Nurses Association represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses.
National Nurses United is the country's largest and fastest-growing union and professional association of registered nurses, with more than 175,000 members nationwide.