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Child Watch® Column: "It’s Past Time to Protect Children Not Guns"

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Marian Wright Edelman

Thousands of people across the country have poured into the streets—from New York to Sanford, Florida—to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Hundreds of thousands more stepped up to protest online. In response to the public outcry, the Sanford Chief of Police has temporarily stepped down and the state prosecutor has stepped aside. But nearly one month after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was stopped, stalked, shot and killed while walking home from a convenience store, armed only with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, his killer, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested. Today, the Children’s Defense Fund released its new report, Protect Children, Not Guns 2012, dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin and the thousands of children and teenagers killed by guns in America, including the 5,740 children killed in 2008 and 2009 according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Where is the outrage over every single one of the thousands of children and teens killed by guns—too many by gun slinging Americans unrestrained by common sense gun control laws. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, also known as the “shoot first, ask questions later” law, is now under national scrutiny. But will it and others be changed to protect children rather than gun owners and sellers?

April 16th marks the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre where 32 students and faculty were killed by a gun, 25 others were injured, and many more were traumatized. Each year since then has seen gun victims—young children, teenagers, young adults, a Member of Congress, a federal judge and many more. Days, weeks, months and years go by and little or nothing—except fleeting headlines, tears, trauma and talk—is done to protect children instead of guns.

  • The 5,740 children and teens killed by guns in 2008 and 2009:
    • Would fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each;
    • Was greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan (5,013).
  • The number of preschoolers killed by guns in 2008 (88) and 2009 (85) was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2008 (41) and 2009 (48).
  • Black children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population.
  • The leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun homicide. For White teens 15 to 19 it was motor vehicle accidents followed by gun homicide (2008) and gun suicide (2009).
  • Of the 116,385 children and teens killed by a gun since 1979 when gun data was first collected by age, 44,038 were Black—nearly 13 times more than the number of recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in the 86 years from 1882 to 1968. But more White than Black children and teens have died from gun violence which threatens all in America everywhere.

By any standards of human and moral decency, children in America are under assault, and by international standards, America remains the unchallenged world leader in children and teen gun deaths.

Analysis of the most recent data from 23 high-income countries reported that 87 percent of all firearm deaths of children under 15 were in the United States. The rate of U.S. gun homicides for teens and young adults 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the overall gun homicide rate for that same age group in the other countries.

Why are common-sense gun regulations so shockingly absent in our country? Even in the wake of the Tucson tragedy and the near-fatal shooting of one of their own, Congress failed to act. Calls for banning high-volume ammunition clips and tightening up the federal background check system were ignored. Our leaders once again capitulated to the powerful gun lobby over the rights of children and citizens to life and safety. In November 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act. If a similar bill is passed by the Senate and becomes law, a person with a permit to carry a concealed handgun in one state—a person like George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida—could carry that concealed weapon in another state even if it was against the second state’s law. Proponents of such dangerous laws maintain the fiction that guns promote personal safety. It is long past time to acknowledge gun violence as a hugely serious threat to children, teens, and overall public health and safety.

Our leaders in Washington, D.C. are not alone in refusing to make America safer. Forty-two states have adopted preemption laws to ensure state legislatures control of gun policy, impeding the ability of cities to develop local solutions to gun violence in their own communities. In 2011, Kansas, Mississippi and Utah enacted laws allowing concealed weapon permit holders to carry loaded, concealed firearms in or on the grounds of elementary and secondary schools. With all eyes on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, few noticed a law passed last year that, if upheld, threatens loss of a medical license for doctors who ask patients about whether a gun is in the home although it is not at all unusual or inappropriate for pediatricians particularly to ask patients and parents of patients about possible safety hazards in the home including guns.

We have so much work to do to build safe communities for our children. We need leaders at all levels of government who will protect children over guns. We need a relentless, powerful citizens’ voice to break the gun lobby’s veto on common sense gun policy. Our laws must control who can obtain firearms and close the gun show loophole, require consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns, and strengthen child access prevention laws that ensure guns in the home are stored safely and securely. And all must take action and ask political candidates this fall what steps they will take to protect children from guns. We must remove guns from our homes where children so often find them and put themselves and others in harm’s way and combat cultural glorification of guns and violence. As a nation, we must aspire and act to become the world leader in protecting children against guns rather than leading the world in child victims of guns. Every child’s life is sacred and it is long past time that we protect it.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by rosey at: May 29, 2012
Love the article as it is all true. I am soooooo sick of children being exposed to gun violence in this country and it has to stop!

Submitted by jm at: March 29, 2012
I too feel that it is so wrong that everything gets ahead of our children. I agree with you hold heartedly about the gun laws. We need stronger laws to protect our children.

Submitted by Billie Weiss at: March 28, 2012
This is awesome and so helpful to help make this real to the people we are trying to convince that we cannot allow another child to die from a firearm. Thank you for all you do.

Submitted by Mom at: March 28, 2012
As President of the African American Adoption Agency and a mother myself, I applauded your thought provoking article on the tragedy that is the Martin case and the safety of Black children everywhere. I really do wish we had the strength in this country to stop relying on guns for personal safety and learn to "use our words", our reasoning, and develop a sense of community and national pride in a goal of preservation and value of human life. But that would mean we would have to start understanding differences rather than eradicating them. Tolerance (as in learning to manage emotions) and the ability to agree to disagree among and between AMERICANS AND THEIR VISITORS WOULD RULE THE DAY.

Submitted by Anonymous at: March 24, 2012
I just shared it. I can trust the statistics your organization shares.

Submitted by WhiteWingDove at: March 24, 2012
I believe that if we do not create a safe place for children to be children and grow up feeling safe, they will be the next adults pulling a trigger! All the gun laws in the world won't stop someone from getting a gun if they really want one. But helping them to grow up feeling safe and loved will be the start of turning the need for guns around. The longer it is put off, the longer it will take to heal and turn it around.

Submitted by Stormy at: March 24, 2012
You may hate reading what I have to say, but logic directs me. I don't run with my heart on my sleeve as it often makes for wrong decisions being made. I am very sorry that this young man was killed. It is heart breaking. But at the same time, I find the hysteria to be just as alarming with everyone wanting to convict this "alleged killer," before he is charged with a crime. We DO NOT know the facts to jump to conclusions. I fear that the mass hysteria will prevent fairness in this case. I believe in our system, and I believe in our constitution. I believe in the 2nd amendment, the right to bare arms. There was once a time when people respected life, and the property of others. Kids obeyed their parents and elders in their community. They gave respect. Not so much any more. Don't blame it on the guns. I grew up with loaded guns in the house and knew better because I was taught what a gun can do and I was taught to obey my parents. Some of you might not like that word OBEY... but that is the way it is suppose to be for parents are to know best. TV was limited, and what shows were on, were not like they are today infiltrating our kids with garbage. The music was nothing like the crud played today, of which, I would never allow a child to hear, let alone would want to hear myself. Our teachers had the authority to punish their students as so did the principal. And parents would support the school in such cases unlike today where teachers fear the kids, as well as fear the parents. Metal detectors weren't heard of in my day. So what makes it so different today? It is the way we raise or don't raise our kids. It is the vile crud they get to see and hear on tv, radio, electronic games, and the internet and it is the lack of responsibility, acountablity and consequences. Trying to ban guns is not going to solve the problem. To outlaw guns will only allow the criminals to have them and leave law abiding citizens defensless. We must be level headed and not jump to conclusions. We must refrain from demanding laws to be made based on heated emotions.