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Child Watch® Column: "It Is Time to Act to Protect Children Against Gun Violence"

Release Date: December 21, 2012

Marian Wright Edelman

Over the past few days we’ve all learned a bit more about twenty beautiful six- and seven-year-olds who each seem as if they could have been any of our children or grandchildren. Jessica asked Santa for new cowgirl boots for Christmas. Daniel’s family said he “earned” all the ripped knees on his jeans. James liked to remind people that he was six and three-quarters. Grace loved playing dress-up and with her dog Puddin’.

As the stories kept coming about the children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School and their families began saying goodbye, many of us have spent much of the last week in tears. But many parents, especially those with their own young children, have instead gone through each day desperately willing themselves not to cry—trying to do what little they could to protect their children from the overwhelming adult sadness all around them. After all, for most parents protecting their children is a primal and primary instinct. This is just one reason this tragedy, which happened in school—a place where tens of millions of parents send their children every single day and need to trust they will be safe, has instilled so much horror and despair.

When two serial snipers terrorized the Washington, D.C. area ten years ago, using a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle very similar to the one used in the Newtown shootings, one of the most horrifying moments came after the shooters targeted a child on his way to school, later asserting in a note: “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.” After this latest tragedy, America’s mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, and all those with a mothering spirit must finally stand up and fight that truth and make our politicians act to fight that truth doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes. We must seize the moment and say no more.

Right now the pervasive culture of violence in America only reinforces the sense of threat both children and adults feel. This year’s “Black Friday” shopping set a record for gun sales: the FBI reported 154,873 requests for background checks from shoppers wanting to buy guns on the day after Thanksgiving alone. Those numbers are not about what many people think of as the “criminal” gun culture involving guns bought and sold on the streets. These are the guns being sold to the millions of Americans who are willing and able to go through background checks and follow all existing laws and proper legal channels so that they can either buy guns for their own pleasure or their own theoretical protection. It appears the Newtown shooter’s mother fell into this very large category of Americans. There were 16.8 million background checks in 2012, nearly double the number ten years ago. What is it about American culture that encourages tens of millions of Americans to either use guns as a form of entertainment or feel so fearful they believe they need guns in their homes, including semiautomatic weapons and high capacity ammunition clips designed specifically to kill large numbers of other people, to feel a sense of safety?

Why are we so terrified of one other, even during periods when actual crime rates go down? There is an obvious connection between that feeling of terror and the culture of violence that saturates Americans in violent language, violent imagery, and violent entertainment. Right now, instead of responding as parents and a nation by saying no to the culture of violence, we are apparently responding by defensively arming ourselves with more and bigger weapons. If that cycle of violence and fear is having such a deep psychological impact on adults, how do we expect our children to navigate or survive it?

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports a gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than it is to be used in self-defense, and other studies have found guns in a home are more likely to kill or injure a family member or friend than a stranger. Guns lethalize anger and despair. Gun owners who know these facts seem to either discredit the research behind them or hold to the belief their own guns and families would certainly be the exception. If the Newtown shooter’s mother knew those risks she likely felt the same way. In fact, if her son had only used her guns to kill her or kill himself, it would have been an outcome that would never have been national news. Instead, the weapons she apparently chose to buy and bring into her home were used to kill her, her child, and twenty-six other people who were all somebody else’s mother, child, or both.

All mothers who allow firearms in their homes should ask themselves what kinds of guns they are deliberately, inadvertently, or by example giving their own children access to—and why? All mothers who don’t keep guns in their own homes but do allow their children to visit anyone else’s homes should be aware that nearly half of Americans say they keep a gun in their home or on their property, that one-third of homes with children younger than age 18 have guns, and that more than 40 percent of guns in homes with children present are left unlocked. Before your child visits a friend or relative’s home, do you ask? If not, it’s time to start. Parents need to wake up and take care to protect all children.

There are many more questions: Do you buy your child violent video games? Why? Do you allow your child to see violent movies or listen to music with violent lyrics? Why? Do you keep those things from your children but continue to do them for your own entertainment? Why? Why? Why?

An advertising campaign for bestselling Bushmaster rifles uses the tag line “Consider Your Man Card Reissued.” When the Newtown shooter used that Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle to kill seven women and twenty first-graders, did he earn his “man card?” Is this the best definition of American manhood we have to give our children?

On April 4, 1967, exactly a year to the day before he would be killed by a gun, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the speech “Beyond Vietnam” at New York City’s Riverside Church. He said: “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action . . . If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

For mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, teachers, faith leaders and everyone else in America who is saying enough, this is our moment. Which one will we choose?

Please sign CDF's letter to the President and members of Congress demanding they #ProtectChildrenNotGuns

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.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Dinya3 at: January 5, 2013
I know this community - it is my hometown. There are not enough adjectives to describe the horror of that morning. And there will never be enough words of consolation for families and survivors. And not a single day has gone by since December 14th that I am not reminded in some way or somehow that 26 innocent people -- 20 children -- died for no fathomable reason. In 1990,former US Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger wrote "If I were writing the Bill of Rights now, there wouldn't be any such thing as the Second Amendment...This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word 'fraud' on the American people by special interest groups I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies - militia - would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires." We no longer live in the 1700's, people. Update your arguments.

Submitted by Green Lady at: December 28, 2012
Another horrific tragedy such as we've just seen at Sandy Hook always prompts sadness, horror, and disbelief. Afterwards comes the call for "something to be done". But please, let us remember our history lessons here. The right to bear arms is not just any law, it is one of our Bill of Rights. Our founding fathers not only wrote those words, they also bled and died for that right because a foreign power represented by a large army was not only here in the colonies enforcing laws we had not had any vote on, but also being forcibly quartered in people's homes without their consent! Imagine, a force of soldiers commandeering your family home and forcing you to feed and wait upon them at your expense, or to move out for the duration and let them do what they would with your home. Oh, and by the way, if you had any animals, such as horses for your carriage or wagon, or cows for your household milk and butter supplies, chickens for eggs--forget them! They were commandeered too. Then too, if you had a son of a certain age and size, he might very well be taken to fill in empty slots in their army or their navy--against his will or your protests!!!! Please try to remember WHY this particular piece of the Bill of Rights was fought for, and think about the fact that owning a gun is not evil in and of itself. We are still a nation founded on rights--for individuals as well as the collective society. Be very, very thoughtful before giving up any part of our Bill of Rights. Please.

Submitted by randall at: December 24, 2012
To the editor, 12-21-12 The crap about assault weapons being in the hands of nut cases has hit the windshield again! There is much speculation about how to combat this horrible intrusion on our national conscience. In observing this it seems necessary to find and punish the responsible parties to eliminate the reckless use of these weapons. My suggestion is: “go to the source”. We as a society understand trying to eliminate these weapons would be an impossible task; there’s way-way too many now and every time there’s any talk of “gun control” another million are sold. That doesn’t seem like a solution. However, it seems were trying to paint the wrong people as the perp’s. It’s not the NRA; guns are legal, they claim they are good citizens and they probably are, they’re not advocating that your kid or anybody else’s kid gets shot, they’re parents too. The issue seems too be; who is responsible for this? The manufacturer’s of course. They push gun sales in league with the NRA at unregulated gun shows to anybody with money, push new guns unabashedly to anyone, spend enormous amounts of money to generate fear so people believe they have to protect themselves from their neighbors, fill the air with propaganda telling us we need to protect ourselves from the terrorists that will be here any minute. I’d say these people are the terrorists, and they spend enormous amounts of money to “persuade” our politicians to support their views. What can we do about it? As everyone seems to understand there is no simple solution, however, where are these manufacturers vulnerable? Where else? In the pocketbook, whether they’re foreign companies or US. I suggest we fine the company that manufactured the weapons used in a fatal assault 100 million dollars, another 10 million for each high capacity clip. Maybe a lesser fine to the people who sold it, if that can be determined. These companies can probably just shrug if this only happens once in a while but when the same kind of weapons are used in many crimes, such as the Glock, they might change their marketing policies, redesign these weapons so they can only be used by the owner and become conscientious citizens. (fat chance) The NRA might decide that the extra million weapons they support might not be helpful in a country with 200 million weapons already and stop their belligerent refusals to do anything about it; we are fellow citizens aren’t we? Some of the money should go to the victim’s families, the rest for some anti-gun propaganda of our own. “People don’t kill people, guns kill people!” It’s a horrific thought that some people believe everyone should carry a gun to protect everyone from each other. Is the NRA spending millions to rectify this situation or to silence its critics. Is that what a free United States is about? It’s not very free is it? Imagine going to the grocery store and having to shoot those two granny’s trying to get ahead of you in the check out line. “I saw a gun in her purse and felt threatened”. I felt it was important for me to “stand my ground”. Yaaa…right! Randall Schwab 3048 Forest Lane PO box 1467 Langley, Wa. 98260

Submitted by tagc at: December 22, 2012
Over and Over voices call for more gun control. Not once did the law protect those who were in danger. There is a law in place that prohibits guns on the school campus. Did that stop the killer? We do not need more laws to restrict the rights of the American people we need more compassion to treat those children who suffer from mental illness. We need to wake up to the real problem. The real problem is not guns. Guns do not kill, people kill. We need to treat the problem!!! To use this terrible incident as an opportunity to tout gun control is even cruel.

Submitted by sally at: December 22, 2012
We adults must not fail our children - we must have the courage to make it clear that we will only support politicians who will limit gun possession and increase help for those who need mental health care.

Submitted by Anonymous at: December 22, 2012
I found the column informative and thought provoking. We, American citizens, have got to go after those senaors and congressmen that vote in lockstep with the NRA. These same senators and the NRA have blood on their hands as they cut the funding for those agencies that are responsible for the enforcement of our current laws and can track who purchases guns in the U. S.It is ashame that the Alcohol Fire and Tobacco agency does not have a leader due to the NRA intimidating senators so that no department head will benamed in addition to basicly defunding tis agency. American citizens need to know this and the names senaors and congrssmen who carry the water for the NRA and it's fascist practicies.

Submitted by Cobra Jim at: December 22, 2012
I'll say it again, and continue to say until until there is some reason to think We The People are actually coming to our senses. The second amendment was NEVER intended to result in the proliferation of assault weapons, and the sooner we ban them, whether in rifle or handgun form, the better off we will be. This is NOT a second amendment issue, regardless what that idiot from NRA has to say. that ididot, by the way, had done nothing more than reinforce my belief that the NRA is an organization whose days are numbered. Ban assault weapons, period, close the gun show loophole, and tighten the background checks. For starters we could inquire of our representatives whether they have received funds from NRA or similar organizations, and if so, how much. It might help to find out if our elected officials are working on behalf of We The People or the gun industry and its lobbyists. This is a multi-faceted issue and it requires change in many regards. And yes, that includes exercising some control over the kind of video games our children are playing to the point of addiction as well.

Submitted by Oneofmany at: December 22, 2012
No one person acting alone is responsible for the horrific tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. As Ms. Edelman's Child Watch Column so eloquently and thoroughly summarizes, there is a crisis in our culture which has elevated the stature of guns in our society and denigrated the definition of what it means to be a "man". I found it appalling that a recent ad for a movie, used as its tagline, "Diplomacy is Overrated", only to once again, glorify the use of weapons as a method of conflict resolution. The sickness in our society includes guns, it does include video games, it does include lyrics and images in "pop culture", it includes the trailers for films in the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry and of course, the films themselves. All of this is foisted on children, adolescents, and young adults to drag them into a culture of paranoia and vengeance. Real men and Real women will teach their children ethics, respect for others, personal responsibility for one's own successes or failures, the value of collaboration, and a belief in a Higher Power greater than oneself to inspire one to be an ethical, caring, compassionate person. America has been and continues to be a country in evolution; may it not devolve into something which none of those who contributed to its greatness and made the ultimate sacrifice for its defense, be a disgrace to all of humanity. Silence and silent support of the changes necessary will not suffice. Our voices must be heard and we cannot continue to support the status quo. Change has to begin somewhere--may it begin with us.

Submitted by Denny at: December 22, 2012
I use to hunt as a young man, but no longer. There is no use for automatic or semi-automatic weapons. As a retired educator the idea of arming teachers is stupid. Any time we have a problem we pass it to educators to solve.

Submitted by Anonymous at: December 22, 2012
Well said.

Submitted by wallis at: December 22, 2012
get rid of violent video games and movies

Submitted by Chris K. at: December 22, 2012
I couldn't agree with you more. I have to blame the NRA for fanning the fears that result in more people armed and more fears. The interesting thing is that the NRA's extreme position doesn't represent the opinions of a majority of its gun-owning members, but serves mainly to promote weapons sales by its real sponsors, the gun merchants. And considering its lack of clout in the last election, it's amazing to me that so many politicians stand in fear of its wrath.

Submitted by Chris K. at: December 22, 2012
I couldn't agree with you more. I have to blame the NRA for fanning the fears that result in more people armed and more fears. The interesting thing is that the NRA's extreme position doesn't represent the opinions of a majority of its gun-owning members, but serves mainly to promote weapons sales by its real sponsors, the gun merchants. And considering its lack of clout in the last election, it's amazing to me that so many politicians stand in fear of its wrath.

Submitted by Morgan Le Fay at: December 22, 2012
We live in a country that was founded on violence. The destruction of the indigenous people, the enslavement of human beings. This type of violence is not in the past, but continues in the impoverishment and imprisonment of people from both of those populations. It continues in our foreign policy with violence mostly directed toward people of color (Yugoslavia being the exception.) Men, women and children are killed every day in so many ways through American violence. Wars in the middle east, displacement of hundred of thousands of people in Columbia so corporations can take the land and suck super profits from it are a part of the daily business of America. Fear of "the other" is a part of this violence. You cannot dehumanize people unless you make them "the other." Fear of immigrants and people of color is being fomented by right wing commentators opposing the election of Barack Obama by saying that he was elected by immigrants and people of color who know he will give them "stuff". This is ironic because the wealth of this country was built on the backs of immigrants and people of color and the wealth of many corporations continues to grow due to their exploitation on a global scale. H. Rap Brown's words that "Violence is as American as cherry pie" still ring true today. That violence pervades every aspect of our lives. The possibility of a media filled with thought and morality was burned out of our society during the McCarthy era when artists of many kinds - writers, filmmakers, poets and painters were blacklisted. All that's left is a cleaned up version of white Americans in "Indian Country" whether it be in Vietnam, Iraq or on a galaxy far far away. We need a cultural revolution that recognizes this. A revolution that will resurrect the historical fiction of Howard Fast, the WPA writings and photographs and so much more. The Zinn Education Project does a good job of telling the truth about our known hero's and exposing us to the many unknown hero's of our country-those who built the labor movement, civil rights movements, anti-war movements. We need to know that those who made this country great did not do it with guns. In fact they were being shot at by militia, police and the National Guard. No one who fought on foreign soil under the US flag fought for democracy. They were, as US General Smedley Butler said, "racketeers for Capitalism." This needs to be made clear.

Submitted by wehrwolf at: December 21, 2012
The man who shot the children in Sandy Hook is nothing but pure evil. This type of pure evil will always exist. If someone like this is hell bent on killing and does not have a weapon then he will use a car, fire bomb, or anything else at his disposal. Do you really believe that gun control will stop this evil? I'm willing to bet that a large portion of Americans wish someone at that school was armed and was able to send him straight to hell where he belongs. I am one of those people. Guns are the best way to stop those from committing such a terrible act dead in their tracks.

Submitted by kat at: December 21, 2012
According to a quiet voice, a Marco Kloos, "Human beings have only two ways to deal with one another, reason and force." In a perfect society people would use only reason to persuade others. Unfortunately, as recent events have shown us, we do not live in a perfect society. Carrying a gun negates the use of force against me. It is not meant to scare or intimidate but to equalize a situation only when absolutely necessary. It teaches my children not to glorify violence, but to respect the God given right of every person to reason their own truth.

Submitted by JC at: December 21, 2012
Can we please concentrate on mental health. All of these shooters were known to have severe mental health issues and in this country we have a problem that families don't have anywhere to turn for help. The mental health system has fallen apart since deinstitutionizatn in the 70s and 80s. That is where our efforts should go first.

Submitted by Dibby at: December 21, 2012
What if you're willing to give up your gun, but your spouse says "no way?"

Submitted by Sue B. at: December 21, 2012
I am stunned by the numbers of reported guns in American homes. I despise the cultural message of "be afraid, be very afraid." A ban on large-capacity clips and assault-type rifles is long overdue. Close the gun show loophole and make the possession of such huge fire power illegal. Such destruction was definitely not what the founding fathers envisioned.

Submitted by Beece at: December 21, 2012
We DEFINITELY need gun control! We DEFINITELY need control! What more must happen to prove it?