Youth Justice


Eternity means forever. Perhaps a mother who names her child Eternity hopes it will be a talisman to ward off the dangers that stalk poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Sadly, with the gun violence that is so pervasive in many of our communities, too many parents live with a paralyzing fear that their children may not be safe from those dangers. A parent’s worst fears were realized on the streets of a Chicago neighborhood the Sunday before Labor Day, 2008, when Eternity Gaddy and some playmates were standing outside her grand aunt’s home.  They heard some men shouting as they spilled out of a nearby alley and started shooting. Before the girls had time to react, Eternity, 13, was killed by one of the flying bullets. Most 13-year-old girls think they’re going to live forever.  I certainly did. But Eternity will never see her 14th birthday, will never go to college or land that first job. She’ll never get married or have children of her own.

Eternity was one of three Black children killed in Chicago on Labor Day weekend. Nequiel Fowler, 10, was struck by a bullet while bending down to tie the shoelaces of her five-year-old sister. Terrence Jones, 16, was playing basketball at a park near his home when several young men approached and shot into the group on the basketball court. Terrance was shot in the back. He was a special young man who cared for his 60-year-old diabetic and arthritic mother and helped manage her medications. He dreamed of going to Duke University and becoming a pharmacist some day. How these children died didn’t make national news, nor are they likely to be mentioned in a presidential campaign speech. But they should be.

As I think about the thousands of youthful victims of gun violence, I’m concerned that we’re not hearing enough from the candidates for public office at all levels about what they will do to protect our children. The time for action is now because the danger of gun violence has increased. The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that 3,006 children and teens were killed by firearms in 2005, the first jump in the deaths from gun violence among youngsters since 1994. The 2005 data also happen to mark the first increase in such deaths since Congress allowed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban to expire in 2004.

The federal and local governments have the responsibility to enact and strengthen laws that will protect children and the public at large. We must make gun safety a national priority and push for measures to ban assault weapons, tighten background check requirements and make it easier for victims of gun violence to hold firearm dealers and manufacturers accountable. And the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives must have sufficient funds to aggressively enforce our nation’s gun laws.

Despite the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller ruling striking down Washington, D.C.’s 32-year-old handgun ban, the Second Amendment of the Constitution does not deny communities the right to enact gun control laws designed to protect public safety. States and cities must move forward with measures to prevent firearms from falling into the hands of children, felons and the mentally unstable.

The next President and the 111th Congress must renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban on high-powered, high-capacity weapons. Federal legislation must be enacted that requires thorough background checks for every gun sale including those at gun shows. It is criminal that guns are sold in private transactions where no background check takes place. This background check loophole enabled Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to acquire, through private sales at a gun show, some of the weapons they used to kill 12 students and a teacher in 1999 at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado.

The President and Congress must support initiatives promoted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns to hold gun dealers or manufacturers accountable for the damage to our neighborhoods caused by firearms.

At the conclusion of the November 4 election, political leaders of all stripes and at every level should pursue common sense gun laws to make our streets and homes safe for our children. It is unconscionable that a child at play should ever be at risk of being shot and killed. No one lives forever, but we should build a society where a girl named Eternity, and every other child, can at least make it to adulthood without dying from a random gunshot.

To learn more, read the Children’s Defense Fund’s 2008 report, Protect Children, Not Guns: at