Youth Justice


Imagine a bullet fired from a semiautomatic pistol, moving through the night darkness faster than the speed of sound—more than 1,200 feet per second or four football fields end to end. Now imagine that bullet slamming into the body of a child like a brick through a picture window. Hold that image in your mind as you consider some of the leads of recent news articles of child firearm victims: Chicago, May 3 –Cortney Rogers, Jr., 5, accidentally shot himself in the head with a .45-caliber revolver in his family’s apartment. Bronx, April 26 – An 18-month-old boy was shot when a gun that two men were playing with went off. Grand Rapids, April 17 – While eight-year-old Rogelio Villarreal was having a bedtime snack in his home, gunshots rang out, and he was shot in the forearm. Durham, April 15 – A nine-year-old boy was shot in the face while standing in his front yard. Long Island, April 14 – Jeffrey Langhorn, 11, was shot in the kitchen of his home when three bullets were fired from outside. News stories like these should move us to ask ourselves, “Is any child in America safe from gun violence?”

According to the Children’s Defense Fund’s 2008 report, Protect Children, Not Guns, released this month, the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that 3,006 children and teens were killed by firearms in 2005, the first increase in deaths from gun violence of young people under the age of 20 since 1994. The 2005 data also  mark the first increase in such deaths since Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire in 2004. Since that time, Congress has passed no new laws to protect children and teens from gun violence or to make it harder for guns to fall into the wrong hands.

The CDF report reveals that eight children and teens are killed by a firearm each day. Of the 3,006 killed in 2005, 1,624 were White, 1,271 were Black, 614 were Latino, 60 were Asian or Pacific Islander and 51 were American Indian or Alaska Native. Overall, 1,972 were homicide victims. In 2005, 69 preschoolers were killed by firearms compared to 53 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The firearm death rate for Black males ages 15 to 19 is more than four times that of comparable White males. In 2005, there were more than eight times as many suicides by guns among White children and teens as among Black children and teens. Since 1979, gun violence has ended the lives of 104,419 children and teens in America. And more than five times as many have been injured.

Shooting deaths of young people sometimes occur as a mass slaughter. In April, we marked the first anniversary of the horrendous shootings at Virginia Tech University where 32 students and professors were gunned down by a mentally deranged student. And the multiple shootings at Northern Illinois University this February are still fresh in our minds.

It is imperative that policy makers at every level of government work to adopt policies that limit the number of guns in our communities and regulate who can obtain firearms. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently preparing to issue its ruling on the District of Columbia v. Heller case, which will decide whether to uphold or strike down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns enacted in 1976. At a time when the danger of gun violence to young people is so evident, we hope the Court will send a clear message to the nation that communities have the right to enact gun control laws designed to protect public safety. In January, CDF joined four other national organizations in filing an amici curiae brief with the Court stating that we believe “the absence of handguns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective method to prevent firearms-related injuries to children and adolescents.”

Whatever rights the Constitution does or does not convey, it is clear that the accessibility of handguns dramatically increases the chances of injury and death among children and youth. With more than 200 million firearms in the United States, including more than 65 million handguns, the mathematical chances of a child being a victim of gun violence are frightening. We must take stock of this deadly arithmetic and take action now. I applaud key Mayors who are standing up for sensible gun control measures.

Everyone must support common sense gun safety measures, including removing guns from their homes. We must stress nonviolent values and conflict resolution in all aspects of life. Refuse to buy or use products for children and teens that glamorize violence. Raise awareness of child and teen gun deaths and injuries. Provide children and teens positive alternatives to the streets where they can feel safe and protected. The actions we take on these measures will go a long way toward making children and our communities safer today and in the future.

Learn more about CDF’s new report at