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Friday, October 4, 2019

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:

  • 3,410 children and teens were killed by guns in 2017—the greatest number since 1998. 
  • 21,611 children and teens were killed or injured by a gun in 2017—one every 24 minutes.
  • Gun violence was the second leading cause of death among children and teens of all races 1-19 years old and the leading cause among Black children and teens.
  • Gun violence killed more children and teens than cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, HIV/AIDS and opioids combined.
  • Homicide is the leading cause of gun death among children and teens. 
  • Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native children and teens are disproportionately likely to be killed or injured with guns.
  • Guns killed more than twice as many preschoolers as law enforcement officers in the line of duty in 2017: 93 children under 5 were killed compared with 42 law enforcement officers in the line of duty.
  • Children were not safe from guns in every state between 2008 and 2017. Deaths ranged from 18 in Hawaii to 2,977 in California.
  • The deadliest states were Alaska and Louisiana with about 8 gun deaths per 100,000 children and teens annually—more than twice the national rate.
  • Since 1963, four times more children and teens were killed with guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers killed in action in wars abroad.
  • U.S. children and teens are 15 times more likely to die from gunfire than those in 31 other high-income countries combined.

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.