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Child Watch® Column: "The Massive Human and Moral Cost of Gun Violence"

Release Date: January 11, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

The heartrending massacre of 20 six and seven year old children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut has galvanized public attention once again after a mass shooting. But the killing of children by gun violence is not new. It has been a relentlessly unreported and under-reported plague that has snuffed out the lives of 119,079 children and teenagers since 1979. That’s an average of 3,721 child and teen deaths every year for 32 years. That’s 4,763 classrooms of 25 children each. The number of children and teens killed by guns since 1979 is two and a half times greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in the Vietnam (47,434) or Korean (33,739) Wars, and over 22 times greater than American military personnel killed in the wars in Afghanistan (1,712) and in Iraq (3,518).

The United States of America has spent a trillion and a half dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars so far, purportedly to protect our children and citizens from enemies without, while ignoring the reality that the greatest threats to child safety and wellbeing come from enemies within.

Gun violence saturates our children’s lives and relentlessly threatens them every day. It has romped through their playgrounds; invaded their birthday parties; terrorized their Head Start classrooms, child care centers, and schools; frolicked down the streets they walk to and from school; danced through their school buses; waited at the red light and bus stop; lurked behind trees; run them down on the corner; shot them through their bedroom windows, on their front porches, and in their neighborhoods. Gun violence has taught, entertained, and tantalized them incessantly across television, movie, and video game screens and the Internet. It has snatched away their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, friends, and teachers; sapped their energy and will to learn; and made them forget about tomorrow. It has nagged and picked at their child and youthful minds and spirits and darkened their dreams, day in and day out, snuffing out the promise and joy of childhood and inflicting them with post traumatic stress disorders – often chronic. It has caused them recurring nightmares and made them afraid to go outdoors or to the movies. It has made them want to or feel they have to get a gun or join a gang to protect themselves because adults can’t or won’t protect them. It has made them plan their own funerals because they don’t think they’ll live to adulthood. It has killed them with guns every three hours and fifteen minutes and injured them every 34 minutes. It terrifies them and makes them cry inside and wonder if and when enough adults are ever going to stand up and make it stop and make children safe.

President Obama, in his moving remarks at the Sandy Hook interfaith prayer vigil at Newtown High School December 16, 2012, got it right when he said: “Caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.” And we will not pass the test of the God of the prophets or New Testament or all great faiths if we do not protect all of our sacred children against repeated and preventable gun deaths and injuries. Every child has a right to live and to dream and to strive for a future that is not destroyed in a second because we cowered before a special interest lobby and refused to protect them.

What can we do? Learn the truth about and debunk the myths that guns make us safe. Did you know that one third of all households with children younger than eighteen have a gun and 40 percent of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked? Contrary to what many people believe, having a gun in your home doesn’t make you safer but instead endangers you and your loved ones. A gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher. For every time a gun in the home injures or kills in self-defense, there are 11 completed and attempted gun suicides, seven criminal assaults and homicides with a gun, and four unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.

Read the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s new Protect Children Not Guns: The Truth About Guns, which debunks myths that guns make you safe. Convene congregational and parent and community study groups and let the enormity of lost child and human life sweep over you and pierce your hearts and make you determined to wake up, stand up and do something! Check CDF’s website regularly for steps you can take and that others are taking. Small acts by enough of us can set off big ripples across our nation and shake up our political leaders. The important thing is to care and to act and to keep acting for as long as it takes until the NRA’s lock on gun policy is broken. Stop shopping at stores that sell firearms over the counter - making their purchase and use as routine and normal as a flashlight or toaster. Assault weapons should not be normalized and treated as a household product or glorified as American as apple pie. Turn off the violent TV shows. Stop buying the violent toys and video games and call for nonviolent conflict resolution and restorative justice training of our educators, faith leaders, children, and all of us. Let’s make violence unacceptable rather than acceptable in our nation which leads the world’s industrialized nations in military expenditures, in number of guns sold and in circulation (an estimated 300 million), and in child, youth, and adult civilian gun deaths.

At the height of the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrators filled the Mall and confronted the President, Congress, and Pentagon calling for an end to that war. What is it going to take for the American people–for you and for me–to push the President and members of Congress and Governors and state legislators to stand up to the NRA, gun manufacturers, and sellers? What is it going to take for them to place protection of children and youths and adults ahead of the protection of guns and profits and their election to office.? How much is a child’s life worth in today’s political economy in America?

In 2013, as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the dream of our gun-slain prophet of nonviolence, let us truly hear and follow rather than just celebrate him. Now is the time to free ourselves from the plague of gun violence which has taken over 1.3 million American lives since Dr. King and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations in 1968. This is twice the loss of life than all American battle casualties in all the major wars we have fought since our nation began: the Revolutionary War (4,435); the War of 1812 (2,260); the Mexican War (1,733); the Civil War (214,938); the Spanish American War (385); World War I (53,402); World War II (291,557); the Korean War (33,739); the Vietnam War (47,434); the Persian Gulf War (148); the Iraq War (3,518), and the war in Afghanistan (1,712). Isn’t it way past time for some hard soul searching about what we believe as Americans? Do we believe in the sanctity of life in America or don’t we? We decide.

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 Sasuke at: September 20, 2013
This is very insightful. Though there have been setbacks since the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, we should and must keep pushing forward for common sense gun laws.

Submitted by Thumper at: January 23, 2013
Where have I been and how is it I have not known about Marian Wright Edelman's efforts - nor have I had ANY IDEA of these numbers. -?!- It is way past time that multiple repeat assault weapons were removed from commerce in this country. Ladies, it is past time to make our voices heard!

Submitted by Monique J at: January 18, 2013
It needs to be recognized that our children who face gun violence on a daily basis need this support. The shooting at Sandy Hook was horrible, but I work with children who where this is a norm for them. I love this article because it puts it in perspective. We need to really speak and act out against gun violence. It is affecting too many children.

Submitted by Meg at: January 15, 2013
I am required to have a license to get married, drive a car and I must prove that I know how to drive that are safely. My dog has a license and I have to prove he has had the proper shots so if he bites someone they will not die. I have had a CORI check to work in a child care center and I have to met certain education requires and I have to update my training yearly to prove that I am competent, but I can buy a gun without having to have a license, nor do I have to prove that I know how to use it.

Submitted by kkinla at: January 15, 2013
I think we are missing the mark, we have the opportunity to change Violence that has invaded our society through Video games,where guns are used in excess, stealing and raping are part of the Game! Lets look at the true reason for violence in our society, total disregard for human life. Beginning in the womb! We kill innocent babies every day and expect our children to respect life! Lets get to the root cause and stop blaming guns.

Submitted by Mindy at: January 14, 2013
In life we have to make decisions that everyone may not agree. The reality of the situation deems it of up most necessity. We must take accountability and work to create a safer nation. We allow tobacco companies to say that cigarettes do not cause cancer regardless of medical research. We celebrate young people entering adulthood by giving them an all access pass to alcohol without the facts about its effects.l. We say guns don't kill people, people kill people because it makes it easier to sleep at night if someone else is to blame. Though these decisions are hard, our children need us to stand and fight for them. Do what's right with the P.I.S.T.OLS, Protect Innocent Students & Teachers Over Leisure Sports.

Submitted by Dee at: January 14, 2013
There is no perfect answer but the truth remains, more children die but gun these features then ever before.

Submitted by CooJo at: January 14, 2013
Our Children are our future and without our future we have nothing. I think that the massacre that occured was a horrible reality to the way our country is. It was a wake up call to the nation. First and foremost reguardless of the decision on gun violence and laws, putting prayer in schools is something that can change the nation. As much as fight and protest against things, prayer is one thing that has fallen short in our nation . We were a nation that was grounded and founed on faith, but now it seems that same faith has been thrown out the window. Out with oul and in with the new, a commonly used phrase but is it really the direction we should go as a nation. I feel that we must protect our kids and one way to do so is by putting prayer back into schools. Although you maynot agree with the religion but faith is definitely the way we need to go.

Submitted by Anonymous at: January 14, 2013
I found it to be very informative. I am amazed at the stats.

Submitted by judyk at: January 14, 2013
Thank you for rational words - in a world that doesn't hear. After listening to Preident Obama's press conference comments, listening to John McCain's NO!, reading NRA comments that Congress will never act on legislation, my heart is saddened. Why can't they hear us?????

Submitted by Frank at: January 14, 2013
The newesletter is timely and I am glad someone is speaking out.

Submitted by Bob at: January 14, 2013
This puts the Newtown shooting--and the overall issue of gun violence to children--into perspective. With so powerful a gun lobby and legislators so intimated, common sense of citizenry is the only antidote to continuing these senseless assaults on our kids. I appreciate this incentive to join the CDF and others with determination to overcome obstacles to greater restriction while addressing the plethora of complicities (mental health, cultural violence, media inattention, etc.) Bob Erickson

Submitted by Anne at: January 14, 2013
Powerful call to action on America's shame.

Submitted by Peace fellow at: January 14, 2013
The words of Marian Wright Edelman speak from her heart to mine. What will it take? We all need to mobilize behind this effort to,do something!

Submitted by Jessica Covington at: January 13, 2013
Reading this column has made me realize that we really have accepted violence as a society. As I think about our youth, I think about the violent tv shows that they like to watch as well as the violent video games they love to play. By allowing our kids to take part in such activity, we are only teaching them that violence is okay and that it is "the way of life." In all actuality, violence is not what is going to build us up as a nation. Together we must give our kids a clear message about violence to let them know that it's not okay and to fill their minds and spirits with more positive images and activities.

Submitted by Gunney at: January 13, 2013
Gun violence in America is about to make a VERY large increase. Sheeple like you with your passive attitude will be the cause. Too many Patriotic Americans have said and meant, "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hand" I didn't risk my life defending this great land to let it be taken over by sheep.

Submitted by peacemaker at: January 13, 2013
This article is right on the money, as though i hurt for conn. eleementry school shooting, i also still hurt for the murder of my son, by the gun in 2003 and i was asking that something be done about these guns then, and that was my only child.....if we talk about the change of guns, we also have to talk about the change of the mind.....don't you agree..............PEACE!!!!

Submitted by Willie E. at: January 13, 2013
I know something has to be done. I am so tired of hearing that gun control will only put guns in the hands of criminals as a reason to do nothing. As an adult I have come to fear going into public schools, libraries, and even worshipping in a church. Is this what our forefathers wanted for us? Obviously not. The freedom to carry guns is eating away at all our other freedoms. There has to be some middle ground that can reached through cooperation and discussion on every side of this issue.

Submitted by concerned2 at: January 13, 2013
Powerful article! The pre-occupation of guns and violence in our society is insane. How long will the American People tolerate these needless tragic events to which our society has become numb.

Submitted by mama at: January 12, 2013
Wow. Well said.