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Child Watch® Column: "What a Difference a Gun Makes"

Release Date: April 13, 2012

Marian Wright Edelman

On April 16, 2007, our nation suffered its deadliest shooting incident ever by a single gunman when a student killed 32 people and wounded 25 others at Virginia Tech before committing suicide. Five years later, have we learned anything about controlling our national gun and gun violence epidemic? A look at just a few of the sad headlines across the country so far this year suggests we haven’t learned much or anything at all.

In February 2012, a 17-year-old high school senior, who other students described as an outcast who’d been bullied, shot and killed three fellow students and injured two more at Chardon High School in suburban Ohio. Would this have happened without a gun?

In Washington state, three children were victims of gun violence during a three-week period in February and March 2012. A three-year-old died after shooting himself in the head with a gun left under the front seat of the car while his family stopped for gas. The seven-year-old daughter of a police officer was shot and killed by her younger brother after he found one of their father’s guns in the glove compartment of the family van. And an eight-year-old girl was critically wounded at school when her nine-year-old classmate brought in a gun he found at home that accidentally went off in his backpack. Would this have happened without a gun?

In Chicago there already has been a rash of shootings this year including the especially violent weekend in mid-March when 49 people were shot and 10 were killed. One of the victims was a six-year-old girl who was sitting on her front porch with her mother getting her hair brushed before a birthday party when she was killed by shots fired from a passing pickup truck. Would this have happened without a gun?

And in Florida, unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed walking home from the store in February after being followed by self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” George Zimmerman, who contrary to all generally accepted Neighborhood Watch rules was patrolling his gated community while armed with a gun. Would Trayvon’s death have happened without a gun? Now that George Zimmerman has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder, Trayvon Martin’s family is finally moving forward in their quest for justice.

As a nation we can’t afford to keep waiting for common-sense gun control laws that would protect our children and all of us from indefensible gun violence. It’s time to repeal senseless gun laws like the “Stand Your Ground” laws enacted by 21 states that have grabbed so much attention in Trayvon’s case and allow people in Florida to defend themselves with deadly force anytime and anywhere if they feel threatened. More than two million people have signed online petitions saying they want to repeal these laws. It’s time to require consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns and strengthen child access prevention laws that ensure guns are stored safely and securely to prevent unnecessary tragedies like those in Washington state. And in a political environment where the too secretive and powerful advocacy group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushed “Stand Your Ground” laws in other states along with other “model bills” that benefit some corporate bottom lines or special interests like the NRA, it’s time for all of ALEC’s corporate sponsors to walk away from enabling or acquiescing in destructive laws that protect guns, not children.

It’s a tragedy that five years after Virginia Tech so little has changed. How many years must we wait until tragic headlines about school shootings, children dying, and people using the “shoot first and ask questions later” defense to take the law into their own hands go away? When will we finally get the courage to stand up as a nation and say enough to the deadly proliferation of guns and gun violence that endanger children’s and public safety?

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Kim at: October 28, 2012
It is so sad that adults leave guns around the house instead of locking them up and the kids take them and think they are toys.

Submitted by Denise McCortney Holladay at: April 14, 2012
What about the 7 people killed at Oikos University in Oakland, California by a former student in early April 2012. It was one of the worst California killing sprees. It wouldn't have happened without a gun.

Submitted by Jean at: April 14, 2012
Behind all of this sometimes random, sometimes deliberate, shooting of guns is FEAR - fear of the 'unknown' in your neighborhood, fear of the 'other', fear of the 'demons' in your head (mental health problems). These incidents give meaning again to FDR's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". How do we conquer these fears?

Submitted by sandy at: April 14, 2012
Oh and by the way, in Chicago, decent, law abiding citizens are not allowed to have guns.

Submitted by Swen at: April 14, 2012
Firearms are a fact of life. They are just tools that can be used well or used badly, depending on who is using them. I am not an NRA member, but I know their periodical regularly publishes accounts where people have used firearms to save thir own lives as well as those of others, and these stories are not few, but many. There is also the problem of the ineffective nature of "gun control". Norway's extremely strict gun control laws did nothing to stop the mass slaughter on that youth camp last summer. If someone on the staff had beeen armed most of those young lives would likely have been spared. In the USA, cities and states that are the most restrictive with firearms continue to have the highest violent crime rates. We still do not know what happend in the Martin case, so it is irresponsible to even cite that example. Zimmerman may or may not have been acting in self defense.

Submitted by Leslie at: April 13, 2012
I have tried to lessen the possibility of those who have permits to carry concealed weapons in other states. Allowing people to "Stand Your Ground" rather than retreat if someone appears a danger is wrong. The ability to purchase guns and bullets should be significantly cut back. Asking Saves Kids Day has been celebrated in Stamford and Connecticut also.

Submitted by stormy at: April 13, 2012
You can take the 2nd amendment to the constitution away and outlaw guns, but the fact remains, criminals will still get their hands on guns and will use them towards law abiding citizens who are now no longer able to defend themselves because their guns were taken away due to a gun banned law. This is not the answer. We need to teach morals and values to our kids, along with common sense of which we seem to lack in today's society. We have the "if it feels good do it mentality." This is twice that I have posted and twice you have a sentence that says here's what others have said, but I am never able to see what others have commented.

Submitted by garryloeffler at: April 13, 2012
Yes, the tragedy continues until we adopt some basic common sense rules about types of guns sold: screening of buyers/purpose and training of users.

Submitted by Stephanie at: April 13, 2012
You are eloquent. However, the answer is also tied to our refusal to use scientific research to make decisions across the board. The research linking guns and gun deaths--unintended and on purpose alike--was done years ago and reported over and over at injury prevention conferences in California and nationally. But as a country, we prefer "stories" and anecdotes. The answer is that the 2nd amendment was never meant to allow everyone to pack heat; it was about state militias. It has been perverted due to the gun industry---very lucrative--and the criminal element, very much the beneficiary. In between, ordinary people, including far too many children, are hurt and killed by their peers who make errors, are angry, are depressed, are scared and kill someone, often someone they love. Read about the husband and father who walked into his closet in Nevada, depressed over painkiller addiction and job loss, and shot himself in the head, leaving his widow and four year old. I support the Mayor's Committee to stop this proliferation; the Coalition against hand guns, and the Brady group---and the people with common sense who say, "We have enough deaths."

Submitted by OFVP Chief at: April 13, 2012
I am the director of a government based family violence prevention office (Domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, child sexual assault). I am weary and my heart is heavy. I'm so very tired of gun violence and the toll it's taking on our kids - whether they are direct victims or whether they are witnesses to the murder of loved ones or community members. Guns are so prevalent on our streets. Ask any child over the age of 6 or 7 and they can tell you where to find a gun and its usually in their own homes. My husband is a retired cop and we have a constant debate over where the line should be drawn on the right to carry firearms. There is no easy answer, but we simply must begin to have healthy and product public discourse before the next generation of kids gets their hands on a gun.