Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, interrupts President Joe Biden speaking during an event to celebrate the passage of the "Bipartisan Safer Communities Act," a law meant to reduce gun violence, on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, July 11, 2022, in Washington. Oliver was escorted out of the event. Credit: Evan Vucci

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Candice Jones is a general pediatrician in private practice in Orlando, Florida, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I’m a pediatrician and I own a gun.

That may surprise you. I own a handgun because I grew up with guns. My dad had a shotgun mounted in his truck and he hunted and provided food for his family. He emphasized gun safety, carefully supervised us children when we hunted with him and taught us how to shoot. My great-grandfather kept a gun in the house as a means of protection, and my husband and I uphold that safeguard in our home today. I even have a license to carry a concealed gun in Florida.

I was taught how to properly handle guns and I understand their power. I also know all too well the risks of children finding firearms, so my pistol is kept in a secure place.

I also support sensible gun measures to keep guns out of the hands of those who absolutely should not have them. I am not alone. A 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 92 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans support background checks for private gun sales.

The gun legislation that recently was passed by Congress will expand background checks for would-be gun buyers under age 21, giving authorities up to 10 business days to study juvenile and mental health records. It also sets aside money for states to pay for intervention programs and to implement red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from someone a judge deems too dangerous to have them.

These are important steps, but we can do more. Law-abiding, responsible gun owners like me and others I know want federal firearm measures that keep people safe, including:

Comprehensive background checks for anyone buying a gun; mandatory firearm safety training and licensing process; raising the age of gun ownership in all situations to 21, the same as the legal drinking age; a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and funding for more research on gun violence to inform evidence-based reduction strategies and effective legislation.

These measures can save many lives. They can’t prevent every mass shooting, of course, but they could stop some would-be gunmen from taking lives.

The recent massacres at a school in Texas and at a grocery store in New York, for example, were committed by 18-year-old men whom authorities said legally bought military-style rifles. What might have happened if they’d been denied the ability to purchase these powerful weapons?

I am tired of living afraid. When I drop my children off at school in the morning, I feel a small knot of dread and wonder if someone with a gun will enter their school that day, making it the latest in a long line of shootings. As an African American woman, I also must worry about being shot at the grocery store or at church by someone with hate for others in his heart. And now I must wonder if holiday parades in my city are safe.

I serve families from underserved, marginalized communities, and gun violence is no stranger to my practice in Orlando. I’ve seen a teen following up after hospitalization for multiple gunshot wounds, suffering from post-traumatic stress and also trying to cope with the grief of losing a friend to gun violence.

Another teen, whose life was full of adversity and who suffered mental illness and substance use, shot and killed his caregiver in a fit of rage. I have seen siblings experiencing domestic violence that led to the death of their mother, who was shot by their father.

These children and families will never be the same. Gun violence now is the leading cause of death in children in the U.S. We must remember that these deaths are preventable, and Congress should act now. I am a gun owner, but my right to bear arms should never supersede the rights of children and families to be safe from gun violence in schools, while shopping, or while attending a special occasion.

So, I ask, pray and plead: Please act now and pass gun laws that can save lives.