Youth Justice


As the nation’s mayors met in Washington, D.C. in January to discuss solutions to gun violence at their annual conference, the Children’s Defense Fund released Protect Children, Not Guns 2007, our new annual report that details how each and every day we continue to lose children and teens to senseless gun violence in towns, cities, and rural areas all across America. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows in 2004 alone the gun death toll for children and teens in the United States was 2,825, more than the total number of American servicemen and women who died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since those wars began through December 2006. Every day, nearly eight children or teens are killed by gun violence in America — 235 each month.

Who are these young victims? They were all ages, from all backgrounds, and all parts of the country. In 2004, 58 preschoolers were killed by firearms, while 57 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. Sixty percent of the children and teens killed were White; 37 percent were Black. More boys are victims of gun violence, but girls aren’t immune: the number of girls killed by firearms rose from 325 in 2003 to 387 in 2004, a 19 percent increase. Firearm deaths of children and teens went up more than 10 percent in six states — Michigan, Colorado, Tennessee, Arizona, New Jersey, and Massachusetts — and the District of Columbia. They decreased by more than 10 percent in four states — New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Arkansas.

Some progress has definitely been made. Firearm deaths of children and teens have dropped from 15 a day in the peak year of 1994. But eight children and teens dying each day is a moral outrage. Since 1979 gun violence has snuffed out the lives of 101,413 children and teens in America. For every gun death among children and teens, there are between four and five nonfatal injuries. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average cost per gunshot victim, excluding rehabilitative and long-term care, was $45,000. In a single year gunshot injuries add up to $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs — about half of which is borne by taxpayers. Gun violence is a major public health problem that affects everyone in America.

We need to build on the current initiative of more than 120 U.S. mayors who have called for national leadership to wage war on gun violence. What can be done? We all have a role to play. Congress must enact common sense gun safety measures including legislation closing the gun show loophole, requiring criminal background checks on those purchasing guns from unlicensed dealers, and reinstatement of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Community leaders need to turn schools and places of worship into venues of quality summer and after-school programs for children as positive alternatives to the streets. They should also adopt proven programs that encourage collaboration among families, faith groups, social service providers, and the police to stop gun violence against and by children and teens.

Parents should remove guns from their homes, organize nonviolent conflict resolution support groups in their congregations and communities, and refuse to buy video games and other products for their children and teens that glamorize violence or make violence socially acceptable or fun. And all Americans must call for a national commitment against gun terrorism in America so that children can play in their yards and walk to school and in their communities without fear. Thousands and thousands of children and teens can’t do that now. What is it going to take for us to stop the killing of children and the proliferation of guns which leave every single American at risk?