Newsroom image of kids

Child Watch® Column: "An All-American Crisis"

Release Date: March 8, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote these words in his April 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in the same passage with his well-known warning that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” A few months later, Dr. King wrote that the same culture of violence that killed Medgar Evers in Mississippi in June 1963 and four little Black girls in Birmingham in September 1963 had finally killed President Kennedy in November 1963 reminding us that it’s not possible to confine injustice, hatred, or violence to one group or community. What is tolerated in one place will eventually infect and affect everyone.

When many people think about gun deaths in America, the first stereotype that comes to mind is urban gun homicide—a crisis that disproportionately affects the Black community. As a result, too many people assume that despite recurring cases of often labeled “isolated” or “unpredictable” mass gun violence primarily committed by White male shooters, “ordinary” gun violence is mostly a Black problem that is or should be the Black community’s responsibility alone to solve. This is simply not true, although the Black community must mount a much stronger and more persistent voice against gun violence. The fact is that most Americans killed by guns are White, and most Americans who kill themselves or others with guns are White and our nation’s gun death epidemic is not simply a White or Black crisis but an American crisis.

Between 1963 and 2010, 73 percent of gun deaths in America were among Whites—over one million deaths. Large numbers of White parents have borne the terrible burden of losing their child to guns: Whites comprised 62 percent of child and teen gun deaths between 1963 and 2010—exceeding 100,000 deaths. In 2010, 65 percent of gun deaths among Americans of all ages were among non-Hispanic Whites, as were 34 percent of gun deaths among children and teens. Gun deaths were the second leading cause of death for non-Hispanic White children and teens that year, second only to motor vehicle accidents, and the fourth leading cause of death among non-Hispanic Whites ages 1 to 64 after cancers, heart disease, and non-gun accidents. Eighty-three percent of White gun deaths were suicides, 14 percent were homicides, and two percent were accidents. Among White children and teens, 63 percent of gun deaths were suicides, 26 percent were homicides, and nine percent were accidents.

The state with the highest overall number of gun deaths among non-Hispanic Whites in 2010 was Texas, with 1,620, followed by Florida, California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona, and Michigan. The ten states with the highest rates of gun deaths among non-Hispanic Whites were Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, Wyoming, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, Alabama, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

The total of 31,328 people of all ages who died from guns in 2010 included 20,427 Whites, 7,291 Blacks, 2,943 Latinos, 378 Asian-Americans, and 289 American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Where do all of these deaths leave us? Fifty years later, it leaves us right back with Dr. King: there is no point making gun violence just one group’s problem because we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality without a place to hide from pervasive guns and gun violence. Gun violence is a White problem because most gun death victims in America are White. Gun violence is a Black problem because Blacks are disproportionately more likely to be gun death victims. Gun violence is a Latino and an Asian-American and an American Indian and Native Alaskan problem because shamefully children and people of all races are dying from guns.

Gun violence is an urban problem that devastates cities like Chicago, and Detroit, and Tucson, Arizona, and Washington, D.C. Gun violence is a suburban, small town, and rural problem that devastates places like Newtown, Connecticut, and Conyers, Georgia, and Littleton and Aurora, Colorado, and Pearl, Mississippi. Gun violence is a problem in states with strong gun laws because guns still travel in from states next door. Gun violence is a problem for parents who would never dream of owning a gun and for parents whose guns are stored responsibly and safely because their children share the same playdates and parks and schools and universities and movie theaters and streets as children and adults who do have access to guns and whose family members and friends do not store them safely.

Gun deaths are a tragedy for families whose loved ones are murdered. Gun deaths are a tragedy for families whose loved ones commit suicide. We should take our blinders off because when the 2010 gun death rate for non-Hispanic Whites in the United States was nearly eight times higher than the average gun death rate in 25 other high income countries—and the overall gun death rate for all Americans was seven and a half times higher than the average gun death rate in those countries—and when children are killed or injured by guns every 30 minutes, gun violence is an all-American crisis. Other countries have already made the decision to say no more. It is time for all Americans to stand up, speak up, work together and do the same for our children and all of us.

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

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

Sign-up to receive CDF President Marian Wright Edelman's weekly Child Watch Column.

Let us know what you think about this column:

Enter this word: Change

Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Retired Teacher at: March 23, 2013
I see the big majority of gun deaths are suicides. Isn't that rightfully a personal decision? My grandfather had a painful and incurable disease, and shot himself. Who would dare take away that right and force him to suffer?

Submitted by Jesse at: March 12, 2013
I have been directly affected by the gun problem in the suburbs. Five years ago, my senior patrol leader and son of my troop's scoutmaster, walked home three miles from a party one February night, found a gun in the garage that his father had been cleaning, and used it to first shoot his father and then his mother and his two brothers while they were asleep. He proceed to make the scene look like a botched robbery, walked back to the party, and stayed with his friends all the next day until he came back the next afternoon and "found" the bodies. He confessed under police interrogation early the next morning. I still don't know exactly what drove Nick to do what he did, but it left a deep scar on the community that we still queitly confront as the young men who knew them grow up and move away. I also don't believe the gun reforms that are being proposed would have stopped Nick. But many of the these shooting could have been prevented with better screening of gun purchases. All communities should try to do their part in removing the gun from the culture and help the troubled in their communitiesand pray that they do not suffer as mine did.

Submitted by Guns are not arms. They are fangs. at: March 12, 2013
Why are we stuck on stupid? Because we fear the NRA. We must stop fearing the NRA lobbyists! We must stand up to them, pick up the phone and insist to our "lawmakers" that they stand up to the NRA lobbyists and pass gun control legislation that will bring us UP to the standard of countries where people are safer from the pain of bullets tearing our flesh apart. How patriotic do you feel when you get shot???? How patriotic is it to watch children die while nutcases cling to their guns? Our president was right when he mentioned how people cling to their guns! Our president is smart. Let us pray that he is smart enough to take a strong stand against the NRA. Whether he does or not, we must! Our lives depend on it. GOP = Guns Over People!!! Does the NRA fit the description of a terrorist organization? Look at the description before you answer. Does the word "civilized" mean anything? If so, what? What does that say about people who use that term?

Submitted by Vince at: March 11, 2013
I think that these statistics speak for themselves and Ms. Edelman is right to force us to realize how much a part of our culture this problem is, no matter which race. We need to campaign seriously for better gun regulation until we the semi automatics, exotics and machines guns taken out of the hands of the citizenry, especially the young and medically unbalanced. That is only the beginning.

Submitted by shelly at: March 11, 2013
I am so concerned about the depression and hopelessness of our young black males, untreated depression, suicidal ideation with no one taking them serious, not being counted. Suicide via Homicide. God Is Great, my cry may be small now.

Submitted by Kathy at: March 10, 2013
This is THE most important mission of all to ensure a good start for America's Children. Children are our FUTURE and must be given the BEST start they can get. It's time for the gun nuts to stop caring more about guns than our children.

Submitted by Still Searching for Answers at: March 9, 2013
My brother, 29 yrs, masters degree, regular promotions on the job, middle class with wife and two young sons, committed suicide by gun shot wound to the head in 1978. I always had the question, why? He left no note. He was quiet and private and I suspect depressed. I never considered our family part of the gun voilence crisis. Now, I see we are all part of the wounded in this crisis. I also have more questions surrounding my brother's death. Where and how did he get that gun? We did not grow up in a house with guns and my brother did not have exposure via the military or law enforcement. Our family never discussed and I never saw the police report, but I do better understand that guns in the hands of a depressed person should be of great concern to the community as a person who commits a murder. Thank you for this in-depth article with a balance of statical data to show that this is an American Crisis and we should all get active in prevention laws and education!

Submitted by Sara at: March 9, 2013
It's obvious that we need heavy duty gun control legislation, but how do we convince a majority of the Congressional membership and members of the different state legislators?

Submitted by Anonymous at: March 9, 2013
I have admired the CDF and Edelman for years, and give thanks for all you do. But I am a senior on a very tight budget, so all I can do is tell others about you and urge everyone to join me against gun violence. CMR

Submitted by Gypsydoctor at: March 9, 2013
I do not understand why the National Rifle Association has not been declared a terrorist organization. The NRA has killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda and has been taken over by corrupt and fascist arms manufacturers. NRA leaders should be JAILED, preferably at Guantanamo and Bradley Manning should be released and awarded the highest honors befitting a true patriot.

Submitted by Shamanka at: March 9, 2013
Beautifully, articulately and compassionately said. The children are our future. We must assure that every child is safe, fed, clothed, housed, educated and knows he or she is loved and valued. We must all work together towards the fulfillment of this great mission.

Submitted by Joan at: March 9, 2013
I think our acceptance of violence in this country is also demonstrated by our acceptance of children going to bed without enough to eat, the massive numbers who have lost their homes, our belief that not everyone 'deserves' health care and the unconstitutional method we use to fund education. We seem to have a love for fetal life in this country but no love of human lives.

Submitted by Pat at: March 9, 2013
As always Ms Edelman is so eloquent and so beautifully sums up this horrible American dilemma. We who love and serve children need to be on the forefront of the action to legislate gun laws that protect those who wish to responsibly own guns while protecting all citizens from illegal assault weapon attacks

Submitted by D2 at: March 9, 2013
Let's face it... Australia is civilized, Germany is civilized, Britain is civilized, many others are civilized ... America is not. It lives in backward brutality, which it calls Liberty since 230 years... and that is meant for more than just guns.

Submitted by wynnecolorado at: March 9, 2013
We have lost a vital capacity for self-reflection. As long as our govt. "leaders" increasingly use thoughtless violence to "solve problems," and support a bloated military empire, we are lost. The nation we purport to be "protecting" deteriorates continuously and our sociopathic world-view is a danger to the planet. We need "crisis of conscience" meetings in our churches and communities to re-evaluate our debauched priorities. Both parties in Gov't. and our maligned president fail us. Bishop Tutu legitimately shames us with his horror at our drone killings.

Submitted by Susie at: March 9, 2013
Thanks always for your leadership on this critical issue. I hope you will have monthly Moms on the Hill gatherings so we can talk to people in Congress.

Submitted by jacinta at: March 9, 2013
Excellent! Saw lines for recent "gun show" in Orange County that was out the door. Is it any wonder that there were problem even at Fashion Island and in Irvine! The safest places in America! Someone is smoking stupidiity and it's in the air. Everywhere. I used to think little cognitive changes would work, little polite, political changes over time but now I think the public needs to be hit with a two by four and especially everyone in congress! Democrats and Republicans! Maybe the President too on some issues but not this one. He's on board on this one.

Submitted by no nickname at: March 9, 2013
great column. Question: what is the gun deaths rate for the whole US population as compared to other high income countries?

Submitted by Daniel Smith at: March 9, 2013
Since we live in a data driven society, it is hard to ignore these numbers. it's time out for politicians playing politics to support their constituency. It's time out for citizens playing the blame game. The numbers don't lie. Spiritual people ask "where is God in all of these violence acts." Well, I would imagine that it's kind of hard for him to "do" anything when we have taken him out of so many venues. I think it's time to stop and ask God what we should do. As a proponent for CDF Freedom Schools program, I wonder if any of these teen deaths were participants in our program; I would wager not.

Submitted by AWAbooks at: March 9, 2013
Hello, This is a powerfully written and moving letter. I believe every word of it. I would like to "pass it on," particulalrly to some "woefully ignorant" friends and family members... but there are NO sources cited for all of the sorry stated facts. I think when you present a powerful piece like this, you can't omit the fact that "you've done your homework." It makes a piece like this that much more powerful. Thank You