The Kids Are Not Alright with John Woodrow Cox | Crooked Media
Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW! Jon, Jon & Tommy's first ever book is here - Order Democracy or Else NOW!
June 21, 2022
America Dissected
The Kids Are Not Alright with John Woodrow Cox

In This Episode

Another school shooting, more thoughts and prayers. But maybe this time its different. Abdul talks about the way that school shootings have shaped the lives, fears, and anxieties of a whole generation of young people. Then he sits down with John Woodrow Cox, author of “Children under Fire,” to talk about the blast radius of gun violence among children. 





[sponsor note]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The FDA has approved, and the CDC has recommended, vaccines for kids aged six months to five years. The WHO is convening its emergency committee to decide whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. A bipartisan group of senators have reached a deal on a framework for limited gun reform. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. I was a freshman in high school when Columbine happened.


[news clip] The two gunmen who went on the rampage booby trapped the building and even themselves.


[reporter] A total of 15 people are believed to have died here: 12 students, one faculty member, and the two young killers.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Two students tore through their high school with a TEC-9 semiautomatic pistol and a shotgun, killing 15 of their classmates and injuring 24 more. We didn’t realize this at the time, but it was, as we epidemiologists call it, a sentinel event, the first of many more to come. I remember learning about the shootings while at school, all of us shocked and appalled by the images we were seeing on the nightly news. The ubiquitous Internet wasn’t a thing back then. What’s crazy to me is that I don’t remember talking about what might happen if someone came to our school to do the same thing. It was so beyond the realm of believability that we didn’t dare to picture it happening in our own schools. But Columbine changed everything. As I raise my own daughter 23 years later, the notion that someone should do the same at her school is a fear that I and every other parent, every school administrator, in America has to take seriously. That’s why my four-year old does active shooter drills. She and every school kid in America since Columbine has had some of their innocence ripped away from them. While they’re nowhere near the worst victims of school shootings, our failure to take this epidemic on has hurt them, too. Having to seriously consider the possibility of your own murder in the very place your parents send you to learn most of the day, most of the year–that’s not a normal thing. And as we watch rates of anxiety skyrocket among children, we have to ask what part of that is the consequence of the school shooting industrial complex that has arisen around forcing our kids to do just that? And what of the children who have actually survived school shootings? What about the horror of that day that they have to live with, the loss of their classmates, the knowledge that it could have been them, the survivor’s guilt that it wasn’t. But school isn’t the only place that children experience gun violence. No. If you’re privileged enough to have grown up, to live, in a neighborhood where kids don’t have to endure the regular sounds of gunshots, learn how to duck and cover when they do–and remember that for millions of kids in this country, that’s a lived reality every single day. And we ignore that because those kids tend to be Black in low-income communities in cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit or Saint Louis. All of this comes back to the single outlying feature of American life: the ubiquity of firearms, and our unwillingness to do something serious about it. There may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and we’ll get to that later in the show, but the very fact of the consequences of gun violence on America’s children, those murdered before they ever have a chance at life, those who see that murder, and those who have to prepare for it, for the possibility of it–that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Our guest today has had the courage to write a whole book about it. John Woodrow Cox is an enterprise reporter at The Washington Post and author of the harrowing book “Children under Fire”, an in-depth piece of truth telling about the obscene consequences of America’s addiction to guns for the children who bear it hardest. He joined me to talk about it. Here’s John Woodrow Cox.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Ready to go?


John Woodrow Cox: Yep. All good.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Can you introduce yourself for the tape?


John Woodrow Cox: Sure. My name is John Woodrow Cox, and I’m a staff writer at The Washington Post, and I’m the author of “Children under Fire: An American Crisis.”


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You wrote an incredible book about an incredibly challenging issue: gun violence and children. And I can’t even imagine the experience of having to write that as the father of a preschool-aged child. I want to ask, there are so many reasons to write this book–thousands of reasons–but what was it for you that compelled you to do this?


John Woodrow Cox: You know, I had a couple of sort of epiphany moments early in my reporting on this coverage back in 2017. That’s how long I’ve been doing this. And there were, the two earliest stories ended up being the children who were central to the book, Tyshaun and Ava. And Tyshaun was a little boy whose father was shot to death outside of his school, middle of the day, in southeast D.C.. Tyshaun, by the time I met him, had twice nearly been shot himself. He walked into his front door, the first time, there’s a bullet hole right at head level. And I saw in Tyshaun and his classmates profound levels of trauma, obvious trauma. Kids dealing with daily outbursts, anger, grief. You know, after this spate of shootings that culminated with his father’s death, they asked the kids in the school to draw pictures of what made them sad in their neighborhoods–and this was one of those moments for me, is I was standing in the auditorium and there’s this life-sized Cat-in-the-Hat drawing off to the side, and then there are all these images that these kids have drawn in crayon and marker of what made them sad in their neighborhood, and it was vivid depictions of gun violence, of people being shot on the street, of blood on the street, of funerals, of gravesites, of gravestones. And these were not images taken from TV. They weren’t fiction. These were things that these children had seen with their own eyes. None of these kids were legally considered victims of gun violence–none of them–but they clearly all were. Every one of them was. I mean, these are kids who learned to, what streets to walk down, where to avoid, what playgrounds not to go to, before they learned to ride bikes, before they learned to read. Right? It was central to their upbringing. That’s why parents in their community wanted them to stay at home and play video games because they felt if they played outside, they might get shot. So that opened my eyes to, it was the first thing that really opened my eyes to this idea that we don’t understand the scope of this crisis. It’s not the children who just get shot. It’s so much broader than that. And then the next piece that I reported, which was on this school shooting in South Carolina that no one remembers because one child died. This is in 2016, a teenager pulled up, opened fired on a group of first graders on a playground. His gun jammed after 12 seconds, which is why he didn’t kill the dozens of children that he had hoped to. He killed one child. And so I did a piece on–and this is really the central part, central to the book, along with Tyshawn–these four kids who were on the playground that day, and all of their lives were derailed. Children who were on the second floor of that school building, their lives were blown up. And that led me to create this database, tracking how many children have been on campuses when school shootings occurred since Columbine. That number is now over 311,000 kids who’ve been on a campus. And so the motivation, to answer the question, the motivation was that we do not understand the scope of the crisis. We think, we see numbers like 45,000 dead last year and we think that’s it. It doesn’t begin to capture how broad of a problem this is. It is millions of children, literally millions of children–that is not hyperbole–who are directly affected, whose lives are changed by gun violence every year. And we have not begun to grasp that reality.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: There are a couple of insights that you just let drop there that I think are really important to pick up on. The first is that the blast radius of gun violence is so much bigger than where the bullet lands. And it’s all of the ways that people and their families and their classmates who are witnesses or bystanders to this kind of violence are themselves victimized. One of the leading causes of divorce among couples is the death of a child. I can’t imagine what that would be in the circumstance where you know your child was senselessly murdered by a gun. And then you think about what that means for all of the siblings who both lost a sibling and then lost the stable couple that was raising them. And these are things that we don’t think about. We don’t think about all of the fallout, of what it means to live in a network where one of your most vulnerable people was either shot and killed, or shot and lived, or shot at. The other is that one of the unintended consequences of the kind of coverage of mass shootings is we tend to miss the most common, shootings that are so common that they’re not even newsworthy anymore, which are one-off examples of gun violence. And let’s be clear, it is a marker of the way that our society values Black bodies–because these gun homicides tend to be disproportionately Black–that we almost essentialize those kinds of murders within the community. And the kind of socio-emotional crime that’s committed by assuming these things to be normal, is what your book unearthed. And so I just really appreciate that. You’ve yielded a number of insights already, but I find that sometimes when you jump into a project to research it and write it out, that there are pieces of the story that you you missed, right? For you in reporting this book, was there something that sort of became obvious after you wrote it that you didn’t go in thinking about?


John Woodrow Cox: Yes. And one thing that struck me right away was–and this is really, you know, Tyshaun’s story–was an aspect of this that we’ve missed is the children who lose parents. What does that happen to a child who loses a parent? The way that most of these kids are represented in news stories is, you know, it’ll say father of three, mother of two, you know, in some sort of five-paragraph story about someone who’s been shot to death. Seeing Tysaun’s journey up close, the way that, the anger he dealt with, the overwhelming anger that he dealt with, and then the thoughts of wanting to die so he could see his dad again, and, you know, it just, it said to me, how many kids does he represent? And it took me years to figure that out, but I had a story that published just a couple of months ago that showed that at least 41 children a day lose a parent to gun homicide every day in America. At least. And that number’s, that’s what I could find. That number is probably much higher than that. That doesn’t count suicide, doesn’t count accidental shootings. At least 41 kids a day are losing a parent to gun homicide in this country, the overwhelming majority of whom are Black and brown kids. That’s the reality. And their trauma is enormous, right? It’s enormous. And it’s another, you know, the way we’ve, what we’ve called that series is the uncounted, right? Because they’re uncounted victims of this. And we un-count, we don’t count so many different groups of children. And that is, again, my work goes back over and over and over to this, is the children who were not physically harmed. I often cite this study, a great study from Chicago, that showed that, what they looked at is neighborhoods where homicides had occurred, and they found that in the week after those homicides, the children who lived in those neighborhoods did worse on their test scores at school. So they didn’t have to see it, they didn’t have to know the person who died, they didn’t have to hear the gunfire. They just had to know someone in my neighborhood was shot to death this week and a week later it affected them so deeply that they did worse on their test scores. So, again, so much of my sort of, what I’m yelling into the void, is about we don’t understand the scope, right? When I talk too about lockdowns, you know, we know that between 4 and 8 million children–we did an analysis of one year, at least 4 million, but probably as many as 8 million–go through a lockdown every year in a normal school year. This is not a lockdown drill. These are actual your school is locking down. A meaningful percentage of those kids think I am going to die in my school today. And we know that because they weep, they soil themselves, they text their parents goodbye. One kid I interviewed had written a will saying, Here’s who I want my toys to go to when I die. Again, uncounted. Invisible. Invisible, right? School shootings are still not common, right? Even though we had a record number of school shootings last year, despite it being a pandemic year, they’re still not nearly as common, certainly as the sort of chronic gun violence that kids in southeast D.C., in Chicago, Detroit, and all sorts of other places deal with–but what is extremely common is the fear of a school shooting. And it’s real because kids have seen Parkland. They’ve seen Uvalde, they’ve seen all these other shootings and say, Why couldn’t this happen to me, especially when my school is in a lockdown?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, I take my to pre-schooler to school every day, and they’re pretty good about telling us what’s happening in the classroom, and they did a active shooter drill and, you know, the way that they communicated it to my kid was really quite merciful in the sense that it was about what to do in this far-off scenario should some bad person come to the school, but there wasn’t really a conversation about exactly what. And I shudder to think about the fact that at some point she’s going to, she’s going to get cognizant of the world in which she lives, that she lives in a world in an America where she has to practice turning off the lights and ducking and what to do should she or a classmate or a teacher be shot in the place that we send them most of the day, most of the year, to learn and play and grow. And I don’t know how that’s going to crystallize for her in her mind, but there is an implicit trauma in having to replay those circumstances over and over again, should you need to duck and cover. And that, again, it’s one of those circumstances where you don’t, you don’t think about it as a cost to this, and yet here we are. So how much worse is this problem in America than it is anywhere else?


John Woodrow Cox: Well, in developed countries and rich countries, you know, democratic countries, there is no comparison. We stand entirely alone. We are entirely unique. And the only difference between this country and all those countries is the number of guns–you know, by one estimate, 400 million–and our inability to keep them out of the wrong hands. That is the only difference. Our other–you know, Americans are not uniquely evil, there’s no evidence that Americans are uniquely evil–our other forms of violent crime rate are consistent with those other countries. It is only on the issue of guns that we are different. And two pieces of research that illustrate that point, and these are both in my book: 91% of kids under 15 who die from guns live in this country–well, this is among, this is among wealthy Democratic nations; older teens in the U.S. are 82 times more likely to be killed by a gun, compared to those other countries. So, you know, there is no argument to say that, you know, we’re not unique in this. It is entirely singular.


[ad break]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So, you know, this is the thing that I, I wish people could understand. I mean, every time there is a spate of mass shootings like this, we hear thoughts and prayers and then whole bunch of obfuscation. And the one that I–there are many of them that piss me off–but one of them that pisses me off the most is this idea that people kill people. And the issue here is not that Americans are more likely to use force, right? People, when they lose their temper or they get frustrated, they may resort to force. That is not a good thing. People should not do it, but they do it. The problem is, is that in America, we have facilitated that force being lethal.


John Woodrow Cox: Yes.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So rather than appealing to force with your fists or a head butt or a knife, we are more likely in this country to equip someone with a gun that takes their force and makes it lethal force.


John Woodrow Cox: Yes.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And then not only that, but there is a contagion effect, when someone has demonstrated something and created a precedent for how you show your frustration and anger, then other people pick that up. And we have made a decision in this country that we care more about the rights of a goddamn gun than we care about the rights of people to be free of the violence that could kill them. And that’s a decision that we consistently make. And the irony of this, is the very same people who care so much about the rights of a gun want to tell us that they are pro-life. And that is the thing that I just cannot bend my mind around. And it goes even further than just the gun conversation, it’s that we can’t even ask questions about the consequences of guns. And one of the parts that I really appreciated about your book is that you talk about the research infrastructure in the way that it’s been absolutely castrated in this country by people who don’t even want the questions asked. I’m an epidemiologist. I am, particularly I’m a social epidemiologist who focuses on on social disparities and on the social causes of illness, and gun violence was a big focus for a lot of us, but you couldn’t get funded to do gun violence work. The NIH just did not have funds for it, despite the fact that it is a leading cause of death among a whole demographic of our country, and it is eminently preventable, given the statistics you just shared, and we’re not even allowed to ask how we might prevent it. So can you tell us a little bit about why you cannot get funded to do gun violence research in America?


John Woodrow Cox: Sure. Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, castrated is really the perfect way to describe it. In the mid-1990s, the CDC published a study that basically said the presence of a gun in a home makes harm more likely, it makes it more likely that someone will die in that home. Very simple conclusion based on strong evidence. The NRA went ballistic over that, and they knew, they already knew by then the danger that research posed to their industry and so they went to a reliable congressman by the name of Jay Dickey, who is in Arkansas, and they pressed him to address this in Congress. So Dickey stood up in front of his colleagues and said that the CDC was pushing for gun control and that they needed to put an amendment in the spending bill, the budget that year, that strictly prohibited the entire the CDC from–preventing research that would push for gun control. And it was approved. It was one sentence, and it remained in the budget for over 20 years. And the effect of it was so chilling that virtually no research was done at all. There was no CDC funding. There was, people got fired, and it set us back decades, decades. And, you know, the irony in it is that Dickey became convinced that he was wrong. And partly what convinced him was a guy who had been his, really his adversary at the CDC, who was a gun violence researcher, and they had deep, long conversations. And then another epiphany moment for Dickey was he was driving down the highway and he saw the little three-foot cement barriers that separated the roads. And it dawned on him that that was the result of research, and that we could do the exact same thing with guns. I use cars in the book as a way to illustrate this point: seatbelts, airbags, shatterproof glass, crumple cars–I mean, all of these things are the result of research. We could do, we could have done the exact same thing with guns. But the NRA’s perspective was you can either have your guns or you can have research, you cannot have both. And for in excess of 20 years, we had guns and no research. I will say, encouragingly, under the Trump administration, right, before he left office, funding returned. They modified the Dickey Amendment. And it was symbolic, a symbolic amount of money given we should be spending billions of dollars, given that this is killing 40,000+ people a year. If we were spending, you know, per-dollar death of what we spend on other causes of death, it would be in the billions, but at least it signaled that this is something we’re going to start researching. And the hope is that if we have another Republican in office, that it won’t end, because it began under Trump. So it’s something, it’s a start, but, you know, so much of this is ignorance is the goal, right? It was designed ignorance. And that remains a part of the problem, is that people who, gun safety activists cannot point definitively to something and say, this is how many lives we would save, because we just don’t have enough research. Rand did this massive study that they keep updating of gun policy, and most of their conclusions about what will work and what doesn’t work is just inconclusive, right? We know some things do work, but there’s all sorts of things that don’t exist that would work, that would save lives. And that has been, it was strategic, right? It was to be able to say, Well, you’re not sure, you don’t have any lives that would actually save. It’s because, you know, it wasn’t allowed to be studied. So it’s not as sort of news, headline-grabbing, that history is not as headline-grabbing as is some other things that we talk about around gun violence, but that set us back decades and it cost tens of thousands of lives.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: One of the consequences of the approach that gun extremists have taken is that they turn any effort toward an intervention to empower safety and sensible gun use, into a yes/no question on guns. And the fact of the matter is, it’s a self-defeating approach, because all this is doing is saturating our public space with lethal weapons that act lethally and force that conversation in the other direction. Because here’s the thing: I’m from Michigan, I’ve got family that’s gone hunting literally forever. I remember when I was on the campaign trail in 2018, I met a gentleman up north, he said, “Listen, I’ve been, I’ve had a rifle in my hand since before I knew what a rifle was. And every year we’ve gone deer hunting. It’s part of our heritage here. And I didn’t appreciate how important this conversation was until my daughter was killed by her ex-husband, who should not have had a gun.” And the reality of this is that you’re not trying to take away deer-hunting shotguns. That’s not the point. But what it is, is that this shouldn’t be a conversation about any gun, anywhere, at any time, for anyone, right? It really has to be about what are, what is the use of firearms that is sensible, that is safe? Because there is that. That is a thing that can exist. But we’re not there. Instead, folks like the NRA have forced this conversation about any gun for anyone, anywhere, at any time, and for them, that is the standard. And that standard is deadly. It’s deadly for children in Uvalde. It’s deadly for shoppers in Buffalo. It’s deadly for doctors in Tulsa. It’s deadly. And so if it’s a choice, honestly, between that or no guns at all, all they’re doing is radicalizing, everybody’s saying no guns, no guns at all. Because if that’s the choice, right, and it’s my kid can’t feel safe at school, then I don’t want anyone to have any gun, anytime, anywhere, if that’s the choice. But there is a middle way, and frankly, all of this research would have been about trying to identify what that middle way might have been. What are the technologies you can put in place? What are the kinds of factors that ought to deny someone who is at greater risk of violence to themselves or others from having a gun? What are the circumstances in which we should apply buffers between when you apply for a gun and when you get a gun? Because let’s be clear, if you’re hot, you’re angry, and you’re buying a gun to take your force from force to lethal force, then you probably shouldn’t have a gun. And if we force you to wait 28 days, maybe you calm down for a little bit and think a little bit about whether or not you want to destroy your life and everyone else’s who comes in contact with you because you got a gun, right? And it’s like these things are, I mean, when we talk about common sense, it really is just common sense. And the NRA, the gun lobby, gun manufacturers, are so afraid of just basic sensible reform that they scream that they’re going to take away your guns. And that’s not the point. The point is, we don’t want guns to be killing people in their schools or at their shopping centers.


John Woodrow Cox: Yeah. You raise a, you raise a really, really important point about how the NRA strategy is, has been to make this binary, right? And in fact, you know, the book gets into a Republican lawmaker, the one Republican lawmaker in the state of South Carolina who after Parkland stood up and said, Enough, you know, thoughts and prayers are working, God’s not listening, we have to do something different. And his perspective was that the binary position that his colleagues had taken was doom. It would spell doom for people who believed in guns. Because if there wasn’t compromise, eventually we would reach that tipping point, and then, you know, the fact that that everybody, all the gun safety activists, everybody on the left, has been told for decades that it’s all or nothing, suddenly they have the power to choose nothing. And he saw it, he saw compromise as a way to preserve the Second Amendment, to preserve hunters’ rights, to preserve law-abiding citizens gun rights. Because he felt like, you know, if we don’t compromise now, eventually we will not be in a position to have a choice. So I think it’s a really good point. There is great incentive, long term, for gun owners to compromise, for gun-owning lawmakers to compromise. Of course, their perspective is entirely short term, is “I need to cling to power the next time I’m up for election” so, you know, that’s a motivating factor for them and will be for the foreseeable future.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to talk a little bit about the gun industry, right, because if you want to understand failures in American public policy, it almost always goes back to two things. There is a large, powerful industry that can make a lot of money selling a product, and they’re going to leverage their power and their money to influence the political process so that policy doesn’t change, right? And that’s true in American health insurance. It’s true in drug policy. It was true in the automotive industry when it came to choosing not to put in these sort of sensible safety precautions, right, when when Ralph Nader was talking about “Unsafe at any speed”. It has been true over and over and over again. And, you know, you look at the company that manufactured the Uvalde shooters murder weapon, Daniel Defense, and they have a history of this really problematic, questionable advertising, really preying on the fears of parents to protect their kids. But the thing is, the thing they sell is less likely to protect those kids than it is to kill those kids, right? They spent, I mean, Marvin Daniel himself spent $70,000 trying to influence the 2020 election cycle. His company spent $100,000 in the Georgia runoff alone. How important is it for us to understand the incentives of gun manufacturers here, and what’s their role in perpetuating the system as we understand it?


John Woodrow Cox: Huge. I mean, huge. Gun manufacturers are are central to the complete inaction. I mean, people think, Americans think that we are, all of us, are split on guns, like we are on so many other things. They think that 50% think one way and 50% think the other way. That is not true. Overwhelming majorities of Americans consistently back things like universal background checks. Most Americans support things like red flag laws. Most Americans support at least raising the age of being able to buy an assault weapon. Lots and lots of gun safety reform that would save lives–most Americans support, including gun owners. Where that changes is on Capitol Hill. So consistently, senators are not voting according to what their constituents want, and that is because of the NRA’s influence, because of the gun lobby’s influence. Because it’s money, right? It’s money. These things these laws could stand in the way of selling another gun. And, you know, fear. We know during the pandemic there was a huge surge in gun buying. Consistently, fear is a great motivator for people to go out and buy more firearms that they don’t know how to store properly, that then lead to more death. You know, a gun in the home, I believe the statistic is three times more, it makes you three times more likely to die than not having one. Right? So, yeah, they have they certainly, I think historically have had an incentive to stand in the way of any kind of legislation. And they’re very, they’re very influential. I mean, I know examples of Republican lawmakers who said–not even said, I’m going to promote a gun safety law, it was, “I think this gun rights law goes too far and I’m going to oppose it.” And they lost the election because they were labeled a gun grabber, an Obama-loving gun grabber, and someone to the right of them who said, you know, there shall be no infringement on my right. And that did it. That was enough to do them in because of–you know, you’ll talk to, you’ll talk to people in this country, who say, gun owners who say in these places who get this that sort of messaging all the time, and they’ll say, you know, I, in theory, I agree with all of these things, but it does make me nervous because of the slippery slope. Right? That’s been the big lie that’s been told to gun owners, is that if you pass one gun law, they’re going to take my guns away, right? That has been the framing. And it’s a very effective, to this point it’s been a very, very effective strategy. Even people who agree with those laws, they’re still nervous about them because they think of what it’s going to lead to. Oh, this is just the first step. If we give you, if we give you this, you’re going to take it all, right? And it’s a strategy that worked after Sandy Hook, and it’s a strategy that they’re employing again now. And, you know, I’m not sure that it won’t work again.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s the thing. It’s a vicious cycle, right? So if you sell people the idea that your weapon is going to protect their kids, and then your weapon kills kids like them, and the only avenue that they can run to is a weapon like yours, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.


John Woodrow Cox: Right. You know, what we know, though, is that guns in schools do not–so we did a study that’s in the book that it was from reviewing every school shooting since from 1999 to 2018. And we said because ,there was all, you know, after Parkland, there was, Well, we need more armed guards, we need more armed guards, so we need armed teachers. 68 school shootings occurred on campuses where there was a armed guard or resource officer. 68 times. It was about 40% of the shootings in that period. That statistic is stayed consistent. Two times in that period, twice, did a resource officer gunned down an active school shooter. Twice. Seven times in that period did a malfunctioning weapon or the shooters inability to use it stop the shooter. Seven times, right, compared to two. So it is just a myth that, you know, it’s not that different than shooting a home invader, right? That is an incredibly rare event. I understand, I think people have the right to own a weapon for home safety, but the reality is that having the weapon in the home makes you far more likely to die by suicide or to shoot your kid than it is for you to shoot a bad guy. It just, that’s just the statistical reality.


[ad break]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: 80% of the time, if a gun hits somebody that is owned in a home, it’s going to hit somebody who lives in the home. And I don’t know what version of Grand Theft Auto people think they live in where, you know, people just get shot and they get right back up. Like, that’s not how the world works. So if I have a choice between less bullets being fired in my kid’s school and more bullets being fired at my kid school, I’m picking less bullets. And the other piece of this is just you think about the scenario where law enforcement gets called and now you’ve armed teachers and now you’ve got a bunch of folks in civilian clothing who are all firing in different directions. What do you think is going to happen? I mean, I had a friend of mine, she was telling me a story about about her dad had bought a gun for self-defense in the home ,and he’d gotten intruder alert from his his home alarm system and the cops were called. And it turned into this this standoff, where they thought that her dad was the home intruder because he was armed and they had been called, right, to take on a home intruder. And so we don’t think through these scenarios in real life, like we’re not all the hero of our fever dreams about how we’re going to stop the home intruder in our home or stop the mass shooter in our school. It usually doesn’t work out that way. And we forget the fact that there are like real people who then potentially get shot, many of whom are the ones who, quote unquote, “were hardening the schools.” The other part of this is that you look at Uvalde, that school district got $69,000 to harden schools after the Santa Fe shooting. And look how well that worked out. Right? It doesn’t it doesn’t work this way. If we have a choice between a good guy with a gun chasing a bad guy with a gun or a bad guy with no gun, I’m choosing a bad guy with no gun. That’s it. Like you don’t need to be armed with a gun if the bad guy don’t have a gun. So this notion, the way that we continuously play to upping the ante about arming more and more people is profound. I mean, even in law enforcement situations–I went to grad school in the U.K.–police don’t walk around with guns in the UK. That’s because it’s really hard for people who are committing crimes to get guns in the UK, so you just really don’t need them. And guess what? The number of people shot by police, or the number of of gun-related violent outcomes is way lower. So it’s just better not to have guns. I want to just you know, I want to step back here for a moment. You’ve written a whole book. It’s a fantastic read. I really hope that folks will check it out to understand the scope of what we’re dealing with here. But what are we still getting wrong in our conversation? You know, when we have these discussions, even among folks who want to do something about the problem, what are we still getting wrong?


John Woodrow Cox: You know, I think we get things wrong on both ends of this, both on prevention and then on response. Right? Because it’s two different things. It’s, because we’re not. ,here is no scenario in which we’re going to get to zero gun deaths in this country. Not in our lives or not in this country’s lifetime. We’re never going to get there. I think I’ll start with the back end, right, is what happens after these kids go through this. We have got to be more committed to providing resources to Black and brown children in this country. I mean, to your earlier point, we do not value their lives the same way. I’m convinced of it. I’m convinced of it because the way we respond to shootings at white schools in the suburbs is fundamentally different than when we respond to the chronic gun violence that children in Southeast in Chicago and Cleveland and all these other places deal with. And yet we hold those kids to the same standards, right? We do. We say, Why didn’t you make it? Why aren’t you going to college? Why aren’t you making great grades? Why did you act out in class? So there is a movement, slowly, to stop asking What’s wrong with you? And start asking, What happened to you? Right? That’s a shift that we need to make, because so many of these kids have incredibly high ACEs scores, you know, high levels of trauma, and they’re not doomed. They need adults in their lives who love them. That’s what the research tells us, right? That’s the number one thing that they need to get through their trauma. So I will say that first. A lot of what that is, is money, right? It’s just saying, like we’re going to spend more money to have more therapists, to teach teachers, to educate teachers on trauma-informed care, to be able to recognize trauma, to know what to do when a kid has a massive outburst in their class, right? So that’s that’s one thing. The other thing that I think we totally overlook, that never gets talked about as we talk about things like red flag laws and banning assault weapons–these are all critically important things, right, those are all important things to talk about that save lives. We don’t talk nearly enough about simply preventing children from getting access to guns. Just that simple thing. So a lot of Americans, the only form of gun violence they care about is school shootings. That’s it. That’s the only one that gets their attention. If that’s the only thing you care about, then consider this. If after Columbine, the only change that America made was to stop children from getting access to guns. if all the adults said, Not letting a kid get access to my gun–more than 50%, nearly 60% of school shootings would not have happened. They just simply wouldn’t have happened since Columbine. If we just did that one thing, which would not infringe on anybody’s right to own a gun, buy guns. It wouldn’t do anything. It would just say, you have to be responsible for the guns that you have, and if you’re not, you’re going to be held criminally responsible. One change, right? And we overlook it because it’s not as sexy as, you know, banning assault weapons, which are the things that grab everybody’s attention. Many, many, many, many more people are killed in this country every year by handguns than assault weapons.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yep.


John Woodrow Cox: It’s not even close. And certainly when kids are getting access to guns, if they’re going to their schools, if they’re shooting themselves on accident or on purpose–overwhelming majority of the time that’s with a handgun. And there are millions of children in this country right now who are living in homes with loaded, unsecured handguns. And I, one thing I tell gun owners all the time is you do not know what your kid is doing or what your kid knows. And there’s research that backs that up. In the book, I cite a study from the rural south, they surveyed gun-owning parents and they ask him two questions. They said, Does your kid know where your gun is? And the response among the people who said, No, my kid has no idea where my gun is–about 40% of those kids did know where their gun was. They also ask them, Has your kid ever played with your gun? Among the people who said, No, my kids never play with my gun–20% of those kids had played with that gun. And all it would take is, you know, a pull of the trigger, right? So, there is nothing more urgent, nothing more obvious than America’s simply locking up the guns that they have, because it’s something we could do right now. People can do that right now. This is especially important on the issue of suicide. Thousands of children, thousands of children who kill themselves with their parents’ guns would still be alive if people simply locked up their firearms.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: On that note, we deeply appreciate your reporting, your leadership on this issue, and being courageous enough to look this problem in the eye and to tell us all about it. That was John Woodrow Cox. He’s an enterprise reporter of The Washington Post, and he’s author of the really critically important new book, “Children under Fire: An American Crisis.” I really appreciate you taking the time to join us and teach us about this issue.


John Woodrow Cox: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Great conversation.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Of course. My privilege.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: As usual. Here’s what I’m watching right now. So this finally happened”


[news clip] The CDC panel has approved Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines for children under the age of five.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Look, this is a big f’ing deal. As a father of a four-year old, it means the world to me to finally have a safe and effective vaccine for my youngest. But here’s the challenge: vaccination rates among older children, aged 5 to 11, remain at fully low. Less than 28%. In more than half of all counties in the U.S., the rates are less than 10%. I worry that given that and the state of the pandemic right now, even fewer of the youngest kids might end up being vaccinated. But if you or a loved one are thinking about the decision, let me offer my perspective as a toddler dad. My kid had COVID a few months ago, meaning that in theory she’s got some immunity on board. But I don’t know enough about the long-term impact of COVID to believe that that’s enough protection against getting it again. Instead, I want to give my kid every protection I can, and that means a vaccine. There’s little reason to believe that these vaccines behave any differently among young children than anyone else, particularly considering the data we’ve seen. And these vaccines are now probably the best studied vaccines available. Literally billions of people have now had them. I already hear parents, Well, we don’t know enough about the long-term impacts. Sure. But if I had to choose between the long-term impact of the virus versus some unknown long-term impact of the vaccine, I’m choosing the vaccine every single time, and that’s why I can’t wait to have my kid vaccinated. Meanwhile, the WHO is convening its emergency committee to decide whether to declare monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern. To be sure, this is a long way from a pandemic, but declaring a OHEIC is about coordinating a level of international cooperation and attention on the disease. Since last week, when we had Professor Rimoin on the show to talk about monkeypox, the number of cases have almost doubled. This isn’t going away anytime soon, and as we discussed, there are a number of never events like allowing it to infect animal reservoirs here in the United States, that suggests we need a lot more attention on this quickly. Finally, and importantly, considering what we talked about today, a bipartisan group of senators announced some agreement around a framework for gun reform legislation. To be sure, it’s not nearly enough, like not even close to enough, but it is something. Here’s Senator Chris Murphy who led the efforts on it:


[clip of Sen. Chris Murphy] You know, this is a breakthrough. This is the biggest set of changes in the nation’s gun laws since the 1994 assault weapons ban. It’s not everything that I want, but it is lifesaving.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So here’s what the legislation would do. First, it would include a state-level incentive to pass red flag laws to take guns away from people who might use them to harm themselves or others. This, of course, offers red states a clear out. Don’t forget that 13 states have left billions of federal dollars on the table to reject Medicaid expansion. But it is a good start. In addition, it offers billions to support school safety and mental health support, including money to expand community health clinics. And while I believe that conflating gun violence and mental health is the wrong way to go, any investment in mental health is quite welcome. It closes the so-called boyfriend loophole that prevents domestic abusers in serious dating relationships, as well as marriages, from buying guns if they’ve been convicted of a domestic abuse. It would include a federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing. That means that you couldn’t take guns to sell across state lines to bypass stronger gun laws in those states. It also prevents people from buying guns on behalf of others who wouldn’t be able to purchase them. It expands the background check for people under 18, and it closes certain loopholes around gun dealers to make sure they’re required to do background checks, too. Let’s be clear, this is just a framework. Now they have to do the hard work of turning this framework into law. But the fact that this happened suggests that we may be closer to real reform than we’ve ever been:


[clip of Sen. Mitch McConnell] For myself, I’m comfortable with the framework, and if the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I’ll be supportive.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yup. Fact that Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, and the graveyard for any real gun reform in the past has signaled support, suggests a level of seriousness on the part of Republicans we just haven’t seen before. Given our discussion with John Woodrow Cox today, let’s all hope and pray this passes. Those are the only thoughts and prayers I really want to hear about.


That’s it for today. On your way out, don’t forget to rate and review. It goes a long way. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, I hope you drop by the Crooked store for some American Dissected merch. We’ve got our logo mugs and t-shirts, our Science Always Wins sweatshirts and dad caps are available on sale, and our Safe and Effective tees are on sale for $20 off while supplies last. America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producer is Tara Terpstra. Veronica Simonetti mixes and masters the show. Production support from Ari Schwartz. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez, and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.