Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 'Are you living in a war zone?' ED doctors call for legislative action on guns

Two pediatric emergency physicians from Children's Wisconsin, Ryan J. Scheper, MD, and Megan L. Schultz, MD, submitted the below opinion piece to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The letter was co-signed by 140 of their colleagues. Read the piece on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.

On a recent break at work, one of us opened Twitter and read about the latest mass shooting — the one in Texas. Allen, Texas, to be clear, because there may be another one you're thinking of. It's hard to keep up. As we shared the news with each other, we were devastated to hear the account of the citizen who had served as a first responder to the shooting. Finding a corpse in a bush. Finding a living child trapped under the body of his mother, who had successfully protected him even as she took her last breath.

We imagined together what that would be like in Milwaukee — for our homes, our neighborhoods, our city to have to survive that. We talked about the cold terror we'd feel if our kids were anywhere near such a scene. We discussed how we would react if that happened here, what we would do to help if we weren’t immediately killed.

And then we realized we are fools. We work in a pediatric emergency department. We see children shot every week, sometimes every day. Just a few days prior, we had taken care of pediatric gunshot victims. Plural. The weather was nice, so walking into our shifts we all assumed we'd see a child with a gunshot wound. Revelry apparently now equates to shootings. One of the patients did not survive. A single bullet and a catastrophic injury.

He survived long enough to leave the trauma bay and make it to the ICU, where his death was pronounced. A child, shot to death on a warm spring evening. The other patient had more holes in his body than any of us had ever seen. He arrived covered in blood from head to toe. He was alert, anxious, and incredibly lucid. But despite him being made into a living approximation of swiss cheese, he survived. He will likely end up with years of reconstructive surgery, post-operative complications, and PTSD, but he survived. A child, shot to pieces on a warm spring evening.

Both of these shootings happened in the small market metropolis that we all call home. Each one was within five miles of our hospital. We can no longer say what someone should do differently to avoid getting shot. We have seen children shot at sleepovers, children shot during gun safety lessons, children shot while sitting at their kitchen table. We have seen children shot by other children, children shot by their parents, children shot by themselves. Shootings are now ubiquitous, as American as apple pie.

It is not like this in other countries. One of our colleagues, a pediatric emergency physician in Canada, told us, “Over my 20 years in the emergency department, I have seen exactly one child shot with a gun.” We see one child shot with a gun, on average, every three days.

We recently gave a tour of our hospital to the dean of the University of Global Health Equity, Dr. Abebe Bekele. He was born and trained in Ethiopia, and now lives and works in Rwanda – both countries that have known horrific violence. While we were touring our emergency department, a 2-year-old child was brought in, shot while playing in the sandbox at a playground. As the trauma team rushed the child to the operating room, Dr. Bekele turned to us in shock. “He is two years old, and he has been shot? What is this — a civil war? Are you living in a war zone?”

We are sick of living in a war zone. We are sick of bloody gloves. We are sick of sobbing mothers. But even more so, we are sick of empty platitudes. We are sick of indifference. Every day that passes without legislative action being taken to make our communities safer is a deliberate step toward traumatizing us all, letting our kids down, and devaluing the importance of our lives. There are common-sense, evidence-based gun laws that reduce gun violence.

Other states and other countries have proven this. Wisconsin, we are asking that you pass the following gun laws immediately:

  • Require background checks on all gun sales.

  • Restrict domestic abusers from owning guns.

  • Allow family members and law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from unsafe individuals in crisis.

  • Prohibit assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

We are doctors and nurses, men and women, conservative and liberal, Black and white and everything in between. The one thing that unites us is that we have watched too many children die by gun violence. We are doing our best; we show up every day and we plug the bullet holes and we open the chests and we restart the hearts and we hug the moms. But the onslaught of gunshot wounds is too much for us to handle alone; we need help from gun laws to stop it. Wisconsin, we are begging you.

Ryan J. Scheper and Megan L. Schultz are pediatric emergency physicians in Milwaukee. This letter was co-signed by 140 of their colleagues, including Michael N. Levas, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Amy Drendel, DO, MS pediatric emergency physician; Danny Thomas, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Madeline Winn, PA-C pediatric emergency physician Assistant; Meagan Ladell, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Jane Rivas, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Ashley Armour, CNA, pediatric emergency certified nursing assistant; Andrea De La Rosa Bobke, pediatric emergency nurse practitioner; Maria Tenneson, pediatric emergency physician assistant; Patrick Drayna, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Swathi Prasad, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Maureen Luetje, DO, pediatric emergency physician; Alyssa Devine, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Melanie Hansen, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Sam Kopp, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Ashley Bequest, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Ellie Dallet, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Victoria Watson, pediatric emergency certified nursing assistant; Robin O’Neil, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Omar Hussain, MD, neurosurgeon; Rachael Smith, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Mareah Desotelle, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Marie Guenther, respiratory therapist; Ashley Webber, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Adria Naas, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Nicole Kidwell, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Nancy Piotrowski, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Trina Morales, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Kim Arendt, emergency department communicator; Tara Peloza, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Elizabeth Mauer, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Katie Simpson, pediatric emergency certified nursing assistant; Adam Kidwell, MD, pediatrician; Carolyn Zenoni, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Jeffrey Campbell, pediatric physician assistant; Mayra Roscoe, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Rebecca Koller, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Nicholas Rastas, pediatric emergency certified nursing assistant; Jean Pearce, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Erin O’Donnell, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Marlene Melzer-Lange, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Abigail Schuh, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Sarah Thill, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Kathy Vernon, pediatric emergency physician assistant; Terry Derks, pediatric surgery physician assistant; Carly Windt, pediatric surgery physician assistant; Ashley Bolin, MD, pediatrician; Nandini Kolimas, pediatric emergency physician assistant; Narmeen I. Khan, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Mariah Marino, pediatric emergency physician assistant; Kathleen Beckmann, DO, pediatric emergency physician; Viday Heffner, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Emily Stone, child life specialist; Amanda Dupont, DO, pediatric emergency physician; Amy J. Wagner, MD, pediatric trauma surgeon; Linda Wojtasiak, social worker; Kellie Snooks, DO, pediatric critical care physician; Rachel Davis, pediatric critical care nurse practitioner; Justinn Tanem, MD, pediatric critical care physician and anesthesiologist; Merritt Tuttle, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Alex Bryant, MD, pediatrician; Deb Schmidt, pediatric nurse practitioner; Nathaniel White, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Paul Otto, MD, pediatric anesthesiologist; Jane M. Machi, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Michelle Pickett, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Julianna Lautenschleger, MD, pediatrician; Jamie Holland, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Emily Tomlinson, MD, pediatrician; Lizzie DeMarkey, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Kathryn Kirsop, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Kenneth Strzelecki, DO, pediatrician; Erin Keller, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Danielle Leranth, pediatric physician assistant; Alyssa Matuszak, pediatric critical care nurse practitioner; Chondraah Holmes, DO, pediatrician; Lauren von Zabern, MD, pediatrician; Kris Saudek, MD, pediatrician; Katie L. McDermott, pediatric critical care nurse practitioner; Claire Maggiotto, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Binod Balakrishnan, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Robert Neibler, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Jennifer Pfister, pediatric critical care nurse practitioner; Kendall Snellgrove, MD, pediatrician; Mansa Monga, MD, pediatrician; Melissa Chiu, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Jennifer Zaspel, MD, child psychiatrist; Michaela A. Simpson, MD, pediatrician; Lauren Manning, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Megan LaCroix, MD, pediatric neurologist; Rebecca Bertrandt, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Christine Schindler, PhD, pediatric critical care nurse practitioner; Anna Mesec, DO, pediatrician; Mitchell Braun, MD, pediatrician; Alice Zhang, MD, pediatrician; Maya Giaquinta, MD, pediatrician; Caitlin Pook, MD, pediatrician; Hailey Meske, RN, pediatric emergency nurse; Madeline Field, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Sri Chinta, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Andrea K. Morrison, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Patrick Walsh, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Sarah Dittmer, MD, pediatrician; Tara Petersen, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Martin Wakeham, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Ella Dublin, pediatric critical care physician assistant; Kristine Schmeling, DO, pediatrician; Jose Uribe, medical interpreter; Breanne Shah, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Pete Fitzgerald, pediatric orthopedic physician assistant; Michael Weisgerber, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Sarah Denu, social worker; Emmanuel Aryee, MD, pediatrician; Latha Kampalath, MD, pediatric anesthesiologist; Alison Ithier, CAN, pediatric emergency certified nursing assistant; Kari Rajzer-Wakeham, pediatric critical care nurse practitioner; Jerrid Dokey, pediatric orthopedic physician assistant; Allison Duey-Holtz, pediatric orthopedic nurse practitioner; Jacqueline Whelan, RN, pediatric nurse; Sarah Wagner, MD, pediatrician; Lauren L. Titus, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Cassie Craun Ferguson, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Veronica Fox, pediatric mental health therapist; Robert M. Kliegman, MD, neonatologist; Danita Hahn, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Sarah Yale, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Sarah Vepraskas, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Vanessa McFadden MD, PhD, pediatric hospitalist; Tracey Liljestrom, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Chrissy Metcalf McKinney, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Jackie Holland–Baldwin, violence prevention professional; Sarah Bauer, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Maximilian Cruz, MD, pediatric hospitalist; Wendi Wendt, MD, pediatric emergency physician; Kilah Kichura, pediatric orthopedic physician assistant; Frances Kaczor, pediatric social worker; Jessica M Hanley, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon; Sandra Huitink, PA-C, pediatric emergency physician assistant; Andrea Maxwell, MD, pediatric critical care physician; Emily Bilot, RN, pediatric emergency nurse.