Like so many, UCF medical student Kevin Petersen watched in horror last month as a teenage gunman killed 17 fellow students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. The violence hit close to home – he grew up just 10 minutes from the high school. Taking action, he organized “White Coats Against Gun Violence” on March 20 for classmates and faculty.

The event’s speaker was Dr. Marc Levy, a pediatric surgeon at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, one of the doctors who treated victims of the June 2016 mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

“As future physicians and leaders in healthcare, I believe that we medical students have the duty to protect and advocate for the communities we serve,” said Petersen, who is just finishing his first year at the UCF College of Medicine.

Petersen remembers studying for his medical school entrance exam when he heard the news about Pulse. “As a member of the LGBT+ community, my heart was broken,” he said. “Forty-nine innocent people lost their lives.”

Dr. Levy said the best way for doctors to make a difference in the gun violence debate is with facts. He explained that the victims of gun violence are often children, pointing out that between 2014 and 2016, 78 patients between the ages of 11 and 18 were admitted to Arnold Palmer for gunshot wounds.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control estimates, more than 31,000 people die a year from gunshot wounds in the United States. The cost of medical care, emergency transport, and investigating and prosecuting such shootings exceeds $400,000 per victim, Dr. Levy noted.

Lack of government funding for research on gun violence is a significant roadblock to getting a scientific look at the problem and coming up with effective solutions, he said, noting that, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, tracks every accident and every fatality and injury. None of that is available for gun violence.”

He encouraged students to advocate for research funding and a national database of firearm incidents “so we know where it’s happening and why.”

After Dr. Levy’s presentation, 40 students unfurled a signed banner emphasizing their commitment to speaking out about gun violence.

Skylar Klager, a first-year student involved in planning the event, hopes she and her classmates can be a potent force for education and improving public safety.

“If physicians are trained to recognize risk factors and intervene in potential firearm violence, we can play a part in improving America’s gun violence rates,” she said.