By Marian Wright Edelman
“Sometimes, I sit back and I have to escape from what I see and hear every day.” I hope this opening line of Milwaukee 11-year-old Sandra Parks’ award-winning essay on gun violence will make enough adults wake up and act to stop the slaughter of children. An aspiring writer, Sandra entered her school district’s Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest in sixth grade with “Our Truth,” her devastating account of growing up in a neighborhood and nation terrorized by guns. “We are in a state of chaos,” she wrote. “In the city in which I live, I hear and see examples of chaos almost every day. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence.”
Two years later on November 19, 2018, Sandra became a victim of the senseless gun violence she described in her essay when she was struck by a stray bullet watching television in her bedroom. She died at 13 with so much of her life left to enjoy.
She begged for adults to act to protect children from guns—a plea the Children’s Defense Fund has been making since 1994 when Chicago inner city children told us their greatest fear was dying from guns during a focus group we conducted with Hart Research Associates. We then began our Protect Children Not Guns campaign with brilliant pro bono help from a great Minneapolis ad agency Fallon McElligott Rice, now Fallon Worldwide. After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre the Children’s Defense Fund published ads featuring searing images like the student falling from a window into the waiting arms of police officers in riot gear with the caption “Remember when the only thing kids were afraid of at school was a pop quiz?” Every ad and poster carried the same message: It is time we protect children instead of guns. Yet, in the twenty years since we began our campaign, an entire generation of children has grown up fearful of gun violence as adults refused to act to protect them. Children and all of us have learned over and over again there are no guaranteed safe spaces in our country where hate, bigotry and terrorism continue to collide with unfettered access to weapons of war. We cannot worship, go to the movies or other public spaces, shop for groceries or sit in our homes with security from gun violence.
CDF’s new Protect Children, Not Guns report analyzes the latest fatal and nonfatal gun injury data for children ages 0-19 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It continues to reveal a shameful crisis worsening in a nation that refuses to protect children and teens from the scourge of gun violence:
This continuing indefensible gun violence against children should shame us all. How many more child shootings is it going to take for enough decent people to stand up and say enough and protect every child’s right to live? Inaction is not an option. I hope every parent, grandparent, youth, teacher, faith and political leader will step up to the plate and act to pass common sense gun violence prevention measures a majority of Americans support. I am deeply grateful that on September 26, 1,000 children and parents with Jack and Jill of America, Inc., of which I am privileged to be an honorary member, took copies of Protect Children Not Guns 2019 to their members of Congress on Capitol Hill asking: “Does my life matter to you?” The answer cannot continue to be no. Please read CDF’s latest report and demand your lawmakers read and respond with urgent and long overdue action.
Marian Wright Edelman is President Emeritus of the Children's Defense Fund.