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Child Watch® Column: “We Must Never Give Up!”

Release Date: April 20, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

The United States Senate’s failure to pass common sense gun safety measures -- the Manchin-Toomey Amendment to expand background checks to keep guns away from underage or dangerous people, and amendments to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines designed only to kill as many human beings as possible -- is a moral failure of great magnitude. Once again the safety of children has been sacrificed by political leaders in service to the gun lobby.  As Americans do we value guns more than the lives of children?  Do we really want to continue to have political leaders who kowtow to the threats and money and half-truths of the gun lobby and who think their political jobs are more important than the right of children to live and learn and grow up in safety?

The fight to protect children, not guns is not over because: 

Ninety percent of Americans want a universal background check. This includes 94 percent of North Dakota voters, 89 percent of Indiana voters, 89 percent of New Hampshire voters, 84 percent of Arkansas voters, and 79 percent of Montana voters—all states where at least one senator went against the will of their constituents and of the American people.  Getting 90 percent of Americans to agree on anything is extremely difficult. 

No one elected the National Rifle Association to be in charge of our children’s and our nation’s safety. We have elected federal, state, and local governments, a national defense department, and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to perform this crucial function.  The NRA represents less than 10 percent of gun owners and is a minority view.  Their stance against universal background checks defies not only 90 percent of all Americans, but 88 percent of those with a gun in the household and 74 percent of the NRA’s own membership.  The NRA claims up to five million members but there are many many more Americans who are not NRA members.  We must lift our voices and use our votes to protect children over guns.

Lies and misinformation must not rule the day in a democratic society.  The NRA claimed that the Manchin-Toomey Amendment would prevent people from transferring guns to relatives and lead to a gun registry. Neither is true. As co-sponsor Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), an “A” rated NRA member, said: “That is simply a lie . . . You can loan your hunting rifle to your buddy without any new restrictions . . . You can give or sell a gun to your brother or your sister, your cousin, your uncle, your co-worker without a background check. You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your workplace or on your church bulletin board without a background check.” Senator Manchin also said, “[A]nybody that has read that bill that would think that would allow or entice the government to begin a registry is misleading and lying.” The NRA may have won the first round by spreading lies and confusion, but they must not and will not win in the end.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:  “However difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’” 

Our children have a right to grow up in a caring and decent society that protects their right to live and learn in safety.  That right must take precedence over anyone’s right to own assault weapons or high capacity magazines that have nothing to do with self defense or hunting and have no place in the hands of non-military and non-law enforcement personnel. Without these weapons of war applied to our children, how many would be alive today?  How many Newtown or Aurora or Columbine victims would have survived?  Since 1963, 166,562 children and teens died from guns on American soil, while 52,280 U.S. soldiers were killed in action in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.  On average during that period, 3,470 children and teens were killed by guns every year – 174 classrooms of 20 children.  This is intolerable in a decent and democratic society. When will the number of children killed by guns in our country be sufficient for enough of our Congressional leaders to pass common sense gun safety laws to protect them as Connecticut, New York, Colorado, and Maryland have recently done?

I hope that everyone who believes in protecting our children’s right to live and grow up will become as vocal and passionate and organized as those who seek more and more dangerous weapons of death in a nation already saturated with more than 300 million guns.  We must stop this relentless war against our children and dethrone the NRA whose reign obstructs what 90 percent of Americans want. 

I woke up the morning after the Senate votes thinking about Sojourner Truth, one of my role models, a brilliant and indomitable slave woman who could neither read nor write but who was passionate about ending unjust slavery and second-class treatment of women. At the end of one of her antislavery talks in Ohio, a man came up to her and said, “Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery does any good? Do you suppose people care what you say?  Why, I don't care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea.”  “Perhaps not,” she answered, “but, the Lord willing, I'll keep you scratching.” 

Some of our Senators have just told us that they don’t care what 90 percent of us want and have closed their ears to the pleas of those who have lost their children and family members to gun violence.  But we must be determined and persistent fleas until we move them either to change their minds or out of office.  I hope enough of us will bite them, bite them, and bite them until they do care about the children whose lives have been cut short and those at risk of the same fate.  Enough fleas biting strategically can make the biggest dog uncomfortable.  And if they flick some of us off but even more of us keep coming back and biting with our calls, emails, visits, nonviolent direct action protests, and votes (the most important nonviolent protest)—we’ll win. 

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 MEG at: November 18, 2013
For 40 plus years I have kept Marian Wright Edelman as a role model and her policy priorities and passionate outspokenness for children is where we all should focus many more precious resources.

Submitted by SGSAdvocate at: May 8, 2013
Thank you for this inspiring column. We Americans have been hijacked by a right-wing conglomerate that is determined to crush those who believe in fair, constructive and democratic debate. The gun advocates have placed millions of dollars into the hands of those who care less about our children, our disenfranchised, our elderly, our poor and our middle class. We must continue to make every effort to obstruct their agenda and seek the truth. We can no longer permit our children to suffer as result of their arrogance and manipulative ways. We must continue to support constructive legislation that will end this American tragedy.

Submitted by BetsyB at: April 27, 2013
So well written! Indeed, no one elected the NRA! I am so disappointed in Congress. I'm approaching 70 and I thought we had made great progress over the years, but most recently it feels as if we have made huge leaps backwards!

Submitted by Anonymous at: April 23, 2013
I am against guns. We are here to protect our children as well as people. I work for stuents at Risk. I work for the Orange County Dept., of Ed with students who are in Juv. Hall waiting to be sentence as adult. It is very sad what our youth go through in life in their home environment and neighborhood.

Submitted by Les at: April 22, 2013
As a youth worker and program director of the 70's and 80's I learned early the need for meaningful gun control to reduce gun violence. I agree: Never Give Up.

Submitted by Green Lady at: April 22, 2013
We all want to protect our children, but any time we give up our rights and/or a freedom for security we eventually end up with neither. That has been history's lesson in many venues throughout the world. However, we do need to protect our most vulnerable, our children, and a basic universal background check at the time of a gun purchase would ensure some needed protection. Thank you.

Submitted by Bren at: April 22, 2013
Good Morning, Since I have a child, grandchildren, and work in education, I always read your articles. I think this is one of the best ones I have ever read, although I found the information contained herein very sad for our children. You are doing a FINE Job. May God bless you always for what you are doing to save our children in this evil world.

Submitted by dlg at: April 21, 2013
Thank you for saying what needs to be said - the NRA is NOT elected to do anything for us - let alone make us unsafe. It is indeed a sad day when so few decide something so important.

Submitted by gig at: April 21, 2013
She's a light in the shadows!

Submitted by Succor at: April 21, 2013
Maybe we need to go the route of the states--bypass the federal government at this point in time? The states can and should take the lead if our Senate cannot bring themselves to the task.

Submitted by Lundy at: April 21, 2013
I am deeply grateful for Marian Wright Edelman's courage and truth-telling. I would like to see a list and/or photos of ALL the types of guns legally available in this country, along with how easy it is to purchase these guns on the internet and other places without any background checks. Then the question: how can anyone say the Second Amendment is threatened? It's the lives of our children that are threatened. Thank you for keeping people scratching, Marian!

Submitted by Larkrise at: April 21, 2013
Dan Coates is a retread,self-serving party hack who has the blood of children on his greed-driven hands. He is despicable.

Submitted by Nancy at: April 20, 2013
I have admired your wisdom ever since I first heard you speak in Sacramento at a meeting of early childhood educators of which I was one at that time before going back to social work. Children are more important than anything else and we should look at everything in terms of what is best for them.

Submitted by Bumpsey at: April 20, 2013
As always on point. We have to keep the senate scratching. Especially, those (senators) who seem to have no desire to listen and act with reason/good common sense.

Submitted by Grannie Annie at: April 20, 2013
Thank you, Marian Edelman. The Boston Marathon aftermath so suggests to me that it is law officials who need the guns, not our citizens. I hope the realities and visuals re. the capture of the young man will reinforce who in our modern USA should have guns. I want to make Guns and overturning Citizens United my main issues in next few years, and have just sent $25 to Mayors re. Guns issue, and with some fear, I plan to display their bumper sticker, while hoping some NRA person won't bump my car, or worse...a bit of personal NRA fear.

Submitted by Sue B. at: April 20, 2013
I was so very disappointed about the bills defeat that I e-mailed every Senator that voted against it. I hope that their twitter and e-mail accounts were swamped. This is the text that I sent. I love your column, thank you so much for all that you do. The recent proposed legislation intended to expand commercial background checks contained nothing that could have been considered a threat to the Second Amendment. I find it incredible that it failed passage. It's all too apparent that the bills' death reflects successful leverage from both the NRA and its masters, the gun lobby. How unfortunate that the voting public didn't receive better representation, particularly when the vast majority of Americans strongly supported the measure. Inconceivable, and the saddest part of this is that those same Senators who quailed before potential re-election threats, will recite tomes of sympathy this coming December 14th. What empty tributes.

Submitted by Peacemaker at: April 20, 2013
I cannot understand the mentality of our legislators that put unnecessary assault weapons before the innocent lives of children!

Submitted by Pookie at: April 20, 2013
No one cares. I have been fighting a battle to ensure safety amongst children for years, and flat our, people only care about their own children, not children as a whole. The NRA is a powerful organization made up of old white men, that believe that the constitution is the backbone of this country, and will not do anything that will put their 2nd amendment rights in jeopardy - the right to bare arms.

Submitted by Anonymous at: April 20, 2013
Ms Edelman has put forth some very powerful and persuasive arguments. Please publish the NAMEs of those senators that kowtowed to the NRA so we can send them scathing letters and emails and drum them right out of office. We will be more than fleas.... We will be nasty stinging hornets and they will feel our bite. I'm disgusted and fed up with this insanity....90% of us are having our rights trampled.

Submitted by Ms. O at: April 20, 2013
This article is exactly right. We have to remember that We, the People are the most powerful force. We are greater than all the manufacturing lobbies and NRA extremists. We are mother and fathers and voters and we will not loose this war to protect out children. We will not loose.