ER doctors see increase in gunshot victims over past year

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The trauma department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center reports an increase of young people being treated for gunshot wounds.

For teens aged 16 to 19 years old, emergency room doctors have seen a 30 percent increase over last year.

The increase is even larger for patients aged 20 to 25 years old. Gunshot wounds among that age group have increased by 50 percent over last year.

Doctors said gun violence and mental health issues are driving the increases.

“For the ones that we lose that die, the impact to family and to the community is horrendous,” said Dr. Oscar Guillamondegui, the Medical Director of Trauma ICU. “If you incorporate mental health issues in a surviving gunshot patient, those issues never go away.”

Vanderbilt is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Middle Tennessee. The most critically injured gunshot patients come to the hospital from across Middle Tennessee, Southern Kentucky, and Northern Alabama.

“Prevention is key,” Dr. Guillamondegui said. “Gun safety like locking up guns, keeping them from children, and maintaining gun safety in the home are all important things for gun owners to remember.”

News 2 checked with the Metro Nashville Police Department. So far this year, there have been 25 gunshot injury victims aged 13 to 19 years old. That excludes suicide attempts, suicide, and accidental shootings.

In 2014, there were 48 injuries; in 2015, the number jumped to 72 injuries.

When compared to this same time period in 2014, there were 19 injuries, 25 injuries in 2015, and so far 25 injuries in 2016.

Thursday is National Gun Violence Awareness Day. To mark the day, everyone is asked to wear orange.

The Safe Tennessee Project works to educate Tennesseans about gun violence and accidental shootings.

The organization was instrumental in writing MaKayla’s Law, which was defeated in the Tennessee General Assembly this year.

MaKayla’s Law would hold gun owners responsible if a child gained access to their weapon and then killed themselves or someone else.

“What we see with the gun violence is it continuing to happen,” Executive Director of the Safe Tennessee Project Beth Joslin Roth said. “What is especially troubling for people like me and my organization is the preventable forms of gun violence.”

Tennessee ranks ninth in the nation for deaths by firearm and for accidental shootings, according to Safe Tennessee Project.

“We have to shine light on those issues,” she said.

For parents, the threat of gun violence is especially troubling.

Duanechel Harris is the single mother of two children. Her son is 17 and her daughter is 21 years old.

Luckily, neither one of her children have been the victim of gun violence, but they have be impacted by it.

Her daughter’s friend was involved in a fatal shooting, and her son was at Whites Creek High School for a basketball game when James Nevils was killed in January.

“The only place they have if they don’t have a strong support system in the home is the streets,” Harris said. “We all bleed the same blood, and we are all in a state of destruction at this point.”

Harris said more programs for kids in areas prone to gang activity and crime is important to stop the trend of youth violence.

For more information about the Safe Tennessee Project, click here.

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