Marian Wright Edelman
Three years after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., where a lone 20-year-old gunman wielding an assault weapon snuffed out 26 child and teacher lives, our nation has done shamefully little to protect children instead of guns. Last week, more than 10,000 people attended more than 100 Orange Walks in 43 states to stand up and deliver a rallying cry that we must and can end gun violence in America, according to Moms Demand Action – a cry that must continue and get louder and louder until our tone deaf political leaders hear or are retired from office.
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show 2,525 children and teens died by gunfire in our nation in 2014; one child or teen death every 3 hours and 28 minutes, nearly 7 a day, 48 a week. What is this moral perversity in our midst that values guns more than children and human life?
In the three years since Sandy Hook’s nightmare, we have not passed even one common sense federal gun law to reduce gun violence and deaths and protect children from our out-of- control scourge of violence. Universal background checks work. The evidence is clear. The overwhelming majority of gun owners and non-gun owners support stricter background checks, yet the Congress has done nothing. How do we change this?
Seventy-eight children under 5 died by guns last year – 30 more than the 48 law enforcement officers killed by guns in the line of duty. Is there no shame in the shooters or in the lawmakers who protect the shooters or in the industry who makes profits off the blood of children? Shouldn’t Republicans, Democrats, and Independents of every race, income, color and faith be able to agree that child gun deaths are a moral blight on our nation which we have the means but not the will to prevent and change course?
Last month our hearts at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) were broken by the death of our extraordinarily generous, creative, and decades-long partner and board member Pat Fallon, co-founder of the award-winning Fallon Worldwide advertising agency. Some of his agency’s most searing images depicted the relentless carnage of gun violence that kills and maims thousands of children year after year. CDF began our antiviolence campaign in 1994 after Peter Hart Research Associates conducted intergenerational focus groups of Black youths and adults. We were shocked to learn their number one concern was gun violence: Black male youths didn’t believe they’d live to adulthood and Black parents saw gun violence as the number one threat to their children.
Then came Columbine with two White teen boys wearing trench coats who shot and killed 13 people and injured 21 others in a rampage at their school that shocked the nation. Shouldn’t it be illegal to sell and buy these weapons of war in America that turn our streets, schools, and workplaces into killing fields? Surely we are better than this. How can we let our lawmakers stand by and do nothing to stop the slaughter of innocents? Since 1963, more than three times more children and teens have died from guns in America than U.S. soldiers killed in action in wars abroad.
Why is a child’s right to live less important than a gunman’s right to kill and the gun manufacturers’ profits?
Children are certainly not the only ones in danger in our gun-saturated nation that accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population but owns between 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Recent estimates of U.S. civilian gun ownership are as high as 310 million – about one gun for each person. U.S. military and law enforcement agencies possess approximately 4 million guns. Isn’t there something horribly wrong with this picture?
We must urgently push policymakers to confront and end our national gun violence epidemic as the huge public health crisis it is and there are some steps we can all take now:
* End the federal ban on gun research and fund research on effective gun violence prevention strategies.
* Continue to broaden the range of supporters for effective gun prevention action at the federal, state, and local levels.
* Pledge to ASK about guns in the home where your children visit. Make clear that you will not let your child play in a house with unlocked guns just as you would not let your child ride in a car without a seatbelt
* Divest in gun companies. Don’t invest in violence and death. Are you one of the many Americans whose retirement plans include gun manufacturers’ stock? Let’s ask if our religious, philanthropic, nonprofit organizations and universities with endowments are supporting gun violence through investments. Learn more.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org