By Marian Wright Edelman
It happened again. On August 31, a gunman in West Texas armed with a semiautomatic weapon killed seven people and injured 25 others. One of the victims was 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez who had just celebrated her Quinceañera in May. Her friends remembered her as someone who “could turn a bad day into a good one.” She was walking out of a car dealership next to her 18-year-old brother Nathan who’d just bought a truck he’d been saving up for. Nathan tried to shield her in his arms but was shot and injured too.
Seventeen-month-old Anderson Davis was injured in the face and chest by bullet fragments as she and her twin brother sat in their car seats. These were just three of the children and teens killed or injured by guns on average every day in America. A child is killed by guns every 2 hours and 34 minutes. Some have been victims of mass shootings while others died from accidental shootings, suicides, domestic or community gun violence. Although the majority of young gun victims are White, Black children and teens are disproportionately at risk and are four times more likely to be killed by guns than their White peers.
St. Louis, Missouri is among the communities devastated by an outbreak of gun violence killing Black children. At least a dozen Black children have lost their lives there from gun violence since April. Two-year-old Kayden Johnson and his 18-year-old mother Trina’ty Riley were both killed inside their home. Three-year-old Kennedi Powell was outside her home eating pizza when someone in a passing car opened fire. Kennedi was killed and a six-year-old was critically injured.
Ten-year-old Eddie Hill IV was a bright student who dreamed of becoming a doctor or engineer. Eddie was shot and killed in July standing outside his home. Seven-year-old Xavier Usanga was killed by a stray bullet playing in his backyard with his sisters the day before he was to begin second grade. Mourners brought Captain America and Iron Man action figures to Xavier’s vigil. Kristina Curry, Myiesha Cannon, and Jason Eberhart, Jr. were all 16 when they lost their lives. Kristina, who loved to sing, dance, and garden, was killed in May. Myiesha, an honor roll student, was killed in June. Jason, killed in August, was a gifted athlete who hoped to play football in college like his older brother. Eight-year-old Jurnee Thompson was shot and killed after a fight broke out at a football jamboree she was attending with her cousins. And 15-year-old Sentonio Cox was found shot dead near a path he and his twin brother often used as a shortcut home.
Rev. Starsky Wilson, who chaired the Ferguson Commission, is CEO of the Deaconess Foundation and a community leader in St. Louis. His 9-year-old son Mason is one of many St. Louis children affected by gun violence. Mason told a reporter through quiet tears last week, “It makes me sad and it makes me worried a lot.” In July Mason and 170 other children attending the Deaconess Foundation’s CDF Freedom Schools® program brought letters and messages to St. Louis’s City Hall officials describing their fears and urging adults to enact stronger laws to protect them.
When will adults stand up to protect children over guns? After mass shootings at two Walmart stores in August, including El Paso, Texas where 22 people were killed and 24 injured by a gunman echoing President Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric, Walmart announced September 3rd it would stop selling ammunition for handguns and assault-style weapons and ask customers not to openly carry guns in its stores—a small long overdue step that was predictably opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is way past time for lawmakers to stop letting the NRA be in charge of national security and listen to the majority of Americans who want common sense effective gun violence prevention measures enacted now. The House of Representatives has passed several measures to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat but the Senate has refused to vote on these measures to keep children safe. Please raise your voice with urgency and persistence and use your vote to ensure your Congressional leaders protect child lives over guns.
Marian Wright Edelman is President Emeritus of the Children's Defense Fund.
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