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Child Watch® Column: "Our Turn to Say No More-Right Now"

Release Date: February 1, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

Statement of former Representative Gabrielle Giffords to the Senate Judiciary Committee, January 30th, 2013

At the January 30th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the survivor of a gunshot to the head, gave us our marching orders. The United States stands alone in the world in our tolerance of gun violence but in the wake of the devastating Newtown murders, a powerful outcry of ordinary Americans across the country is saying no more. This time we want our collective heartbreak and outrage to be followed by real change.

How have people in other countries responded after a gun massacre or mass shooting? Australia and Great Britain provide two examples. In 1996, 35 people were killed and 23 others were wounded by a gunman at the Port Arthur tourist site in Tasmania, Australia, in one of the largest massacres ever committed by a single shooter. Within twelve days of the shooting, spurred by strong public support, the Australian federal and state governments agreed to the historic National Firearms Agreement (NFA), which banned semi-automatic and pump action rifles and shotguns and required registration of all firearms, strict standards for gun licenses, and a permit for each gun purchase subject to a 28-day waiting period. The NFA also prohibited private sales, regulated ammunition sales, and required licensees to receive firearm safety training and to store firearms safely. To get banned rifles and shotguns off the streets, the federal government bought back or accepted turn-ins of over one million guns which were then destroyed.

The National Firearms Agreement was supported by a coalition of groups from across the political spectrum including women’s organizations, seniors, religious leaders, police, parents, human rights organizations and schools, all demanding stronger gun violence laws in Australia. In the 18 years before the NFA there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 16 years since, Australia has not had a single mass shooting. Rates of overall gun deaths, gun homicides, and gun suicides, which were declining prior to the NFA, started declining twice as fast after the reforms.

Just weeks before the Port Arthur massacre in Australia, 16 five- and six-year-olds and their teacher were killed in a devastating school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland. After those murders the public outcry in Great Britain was very similar to the one we are seeing in the U.S. right now. The shooter owned his guns legally and the outrage over his crime started a public campaign for tighter gun control culminating in a petition being handed to the government with over 700,000 signatures. A 1987 mass shooting by a man who killed 16 people and wounded 15 others had already led Great Britain to ban semi-automatic and pump action rifles and shotguns. This time, eleven months after the Dunblane murders, Great Britain passed the Firearm (Amendment) Act of 1997 instituting tighter controls over handguns. Soon after, the country went a step further and prohibited all handguns in civilian hands. The government also instituted firearm amnesties across the country resulting in the surrender of thousands of firearms and rounds of ammunition.

After Great Britain acted, gun-related crimes continued to rise for a while, following a trend that began earlier in the decade. Experts said it was inevitable that criminals were not going to surrender their illegal handguns and it took time to reduce the pool of illegal handguns after the ban and see declines in gun-related crimes. But after peaking in 2003 and 2004, the total number of firearm offenses has fallen every year since. In 2009, nearly 67 percent of U.S. homicides were committed with guns while in Great Britain the number was only 6.6 percent. In 2010, 27 people were killed by gun homicide in the United Kingdom, which includes both Great Britain and Northern Ireland and has a population of more than 62 million people. In California and Texas, with a similar combined population of 62 million people, there were 2,255 gun homicides. What a difference guns make.

Some will argue that other factors contribute to the lower gun violence rates in Australia, Great Britain, and similar countries beyond their strong gun control legislation. Others note that the United States is a very different place, with entrenched attitudes equating guns with personal freedom, tens of millions more people, and tens of millions more guns, and we may never be able to expect the same success reducing the number of gun murders to near zero. These points may have some merit but are not reasons to dismiss anything other countries may be getting right in favor of continuing to do nothing new here. In both Australia and Great Britain extraordinary tragedies pushed a groundswell of citizens to stand up and say no more and elected officials to follow through with significant action. If Americans had said no more after Columbine, there may never have been a Virginia Tech. If we had said no more after Virginia Tech, there may never have been a Tucson. If we had said no more after Tucson, there may never have been an Aurora. If we had said no more after Aurora, there may never have been a Newtown, and maybe some of the more than 31,000 other American gun deaths that occur each year could have been prevented.

President Obama was correct when he said at the interfaith prayer vigil at Newtown High School that “no single law—no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that—then surely we have an obligation to try.”

Let’s heed Gabby Giffords’ moving testimony to be bold, to be courageous, and to act now for our children’s sake.


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 www.childrensdefense.org.

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

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Submitted by ERIC at: February 9, 2013
HELP OUR CHILDREN NOW!

Submitted by Eric at: February 9, 2013
WE NEED TO HELP OUR CHILDRN SUCED IN LIFE!

Submitted by Marissa at: February 8, 2013
I agree with this. I think that guns should be outlawed. I believe that only police officers and people serving our country should be allowed to have guns. I think that guns should be banned to citizens or that they should have more strict gun laws.

Submitted by PCM at: February 3, 2013
Thank you for this statement - I agree that the only positive thing that could come in the wake of the Newtown tragedy (and all the many gun related tragedies, large and small that seem to have become part of the fabric of life in our country) would be laws to regulate access to guns and ban the military assault style weapons and large magazine clips along with required background checks for all gun sales. Obama said it well, and I pray we can move that way.

Submitted by Liz at: February 2, 2013
The time is now; let's heed Gaby Giffords' call to action. We owe it to our children and to ourselves. We are better than this.

Submitted by hyper at: February 2, 2013
I think you do wonderful work for children. I wish I could get more involved.

Submitted by daburg30310 at: February 2, 2013
I don’t know the heroes or the survivors. I just know the names of the victims. I pray for each one including the perpetrator. This perpetrator reminds us that metal health issues have been elusive as families try to take care of our own. Leaving us to ask in the dark..” What would possess anyone to kill 20 kids in kindergarten thru 4th grade? All I can say is this is the face of mental health! We need to recognize this face when they are just family members or neighbors. Sandy Hook Elementary students have seen the results and dangers of the unknown unpredictable boundaries of mental health. I am fearful of the domino affect that this might breed copy cats feeding their narcicistic desires for attention “ Sometimes people have serious problems and act in ways that are bad. “ is the message to youth. However what do we say to a child when they ask “ Will it happen at my school?…or ‘ Will it ever happen again? “ The dirty little secret is that we do not know. Given the freedoms granted to U.S citizens we can not say it will not happen again. This means that we are challenging our kids to prematurely become adults for their own safety. Some schools have been rehearsing “drive by drills on playgrounds ” Now they had better increase or activate the practice the “intruder alerts” drills. What have we really learned from these atrocities? One is that there were warning signs that a certain action could occur. Second is that the impact on survivors can also be devastating…Sometimes a guilt syndrome is developed by survivors..”Why not me instead of them.? “ Third many past survivors say that they cant afford the counseling offered. Since we can not promise any improvement in the protection we should offer free counseling in the aftermath of these events After school shootings have occurred, flags flying at half mast is a beautiful show of respect and unity but it is not enough. Given our technology capability we offered back ground checks as a way of keeping guns out of the hands of wrong people. Apparently the background checks are not good enough to deter ownership in the wrong hands. Is this background check a farce? Anyone who wants to get a gun is gonna get one. So we are left with profiling the perpetrators. What are some of the reasonable responses we need to make as a citizen and as family member when we recognize individuals who could pose a danger to others? Are we helpless and hopeless because failure to take medication can not always translate into a death threat to self or others This is not a cut and dry issues because of the layers of clients as well as rights guranteed by our own Constitution. The explanation of Mental Health and a discussion of the issues must be given a national priority. Mental Health can not continue to pose as normal. Precious lives are at stake

Submitted by tilla at: February 2, 2013
yes, gun violence is terrible but outlawing guns will guarantee that only outlaws have guns. Chicago has some of the most strongest gun control laws in the country yet they also have higher rates of violent crime. More children die in auto accidents, of starvation and abuse than die by guns. Lets do something about that before we start trampling on the rights we have under the Constitution.

Submitted by Chris at: February 2, 2013
Now is the time - for children and all of us. Thank you for your leadership and research and passion. I keep picturing the father who spoke the day of the Newtown tragedy. The loss of his beautiful daughter is devastating and so wrong. We must add our voices to end the violence!

Submitted by TNpkTeacher at: February 1, 2013
President Obama was correct when he said at the interfaith prayer vigil at Newtown High School that “no single law—no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.---AMEN!

Submitted by Mickey at: February 1, 2013
It's time to start acting like adults rather than petulant children.

Submitted by KDdidit at: February 1, 2013
I agree that there is a need to limit rapid fire guns from general populace purchase. BUT, is anyone seriously taking a look at the fact that there is a high correlation between zinc deficiency and violence? Research in prisons has documented the fact that solitary confinement prisoners are zinc deficient. Has any researcher bothered to even offer to take a blood sample of the perpetrator of the crimes of gun based mass murder? If one looks at the countries around the world which have a serious zinc deficiency, one starts to see a pattern. Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan all have serious zinc deficiencies. Then we need to take a look at a country which has a moderate zinc deficiency.....that's right, it is the USA. Zinc helps the body/mind control violence. Zinc helps boost the immune system. Guess which country also has a high cancer rate. You're right again, the USA. Would/could/should the USA be healthier and less violent IF we were to increase our zinc intake? I do think it is worth a LOOK/SEE. IF we don't ask, we won't know, and more children and adults will be killed ALL because of a mineral deficiency. It is no better than before we knew that Vitamin C prevented scurvy.

Submitted by Gare at: February 1, 2013
I'd venture that the strongest argument for controlling automatic weapons and the size of clips is our own NRA. Between Lapierre, Ted Nugent, and the dozens who shout "Second Amendment" when a father is waxing about the shooting death of his son...all we need to do is to make a mental health certification a law in order to purchase firearms. The NRA is just digging a bigger grave, because they let the wackiest of their flock speak in defense of "Gun Freedom: The Second Commandment." Ben Franklin once said that Common Sense is neither. It's true, and I want to see our country run on Common Sense, fact-based, religiously free, with the actual Second Amendment interpreted correctly, for God's sake.

Submitted by CYNTHIA at: February 1, 2013
There are no common sense reasons for anyone to have assault weapons. PERIOD. This is such a no brainer. And anyone found with one in their posession should be jailed for life.

Submitted by One at: February 1, 2013
As statistics indicate most of those who kill with guns are white males, we have a big job to get to the bottom of what it is that creates the kind of dysfunction and unhappiness that must be behind such behavior.

Submitted by youcan'thandlethetruth at: February 1, 2013
The human heart is the issue- not guns, knives, pencils, or our bare hands. American morality is in a death spiral because we have chosen to despise the good things, the Godly things, the things that change the heart. And we always look for the solutions without addressing morality. You will NEVER be able to remove everything from man that he may use to hurt himself. The ONLY deterrent to violence and corruption is a redeemed human heart.

Submitted by Gma Bop at: February 1, 2013
Let's poll this entire country and learn that everyone is beyond ready for action now to not only require universal background checks for all weapons, but also for assault weapon bans and ammunition clip limitations immediately as well. We can either send signatures proving this intent or start the amendment process to amend the Second Amendment or a new amendment to address these issues. Anyone opposed to restrictions/bans are welcome to move to a country where guns are allowed. This is the time to seriously act!!!

Submitted by wynne at: February 1, 2013
M.W. Edelman is a true hero along the lines of ML King in her advocacy for children. We truly live in an insane asylum if we will not insist on stronger gun control laws.

Submitted by Barb at: February 1, 2013
My hope is Gabby's courage will be the example needed to change the thinking of the American public. And the call to action will be heeded by our congressional members.

Submitted by Rita at: February 1, 2013
We CAN prevent many, many gun deaths; but so far, our Representatives and Senators have not chosen to do so. We need to ban assault weapons, large clips of ammunition, and to have background checks for all weapons sold. But, so far, our Representatives and Senators have chosen not to do so. We need to support mental health, especially for children before they grow up to become murderers/mass murderers. So far, our Representatives and Senators(OUR legislators), as a group have not passed COMMON SENSE GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION. I greatly appreciate your articles, Ms. Wright Edelman, especially because they keep this issue from fading. For me, this will NEVER fade until OUR "representatives" ALL start working for the PEOPLE vs. the NRA and the gun manufacturing ($$$$) interests.