Youth Justice


This year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to overturn a lower court decision striking down the District of Columbia’s 1976 handgun ban designed to reduce violent crime. If the Court reverses the lower court and upholds the ban, it will keep in place a crucial measure for the protection of the health and safety of our children in our nation’s capital and communities nationwide.

At issue in the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, is the contention of opponents to the D.C. handgun ban that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals the right to own and keep guns of any type for private use including self-defense. The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Those seeking to uphold the ban contend the measure was written for an 18th century America that did not maintain a large standing army. They see the Amendment as providing for the collective rights of state militias of citizens who, if called upon, would provide their own weapons in response to an emergency. They argue that the Constitution does not deny communities the right to enact gun control laws designed to protect public safety. It is important to note that the D.C. ban does not prohibit shotguns or rifles.

On January 11, 2008, the Children’s Defense Fund joined with four other national organizations: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, Women Against Gun Violence and Youth Alive!, in a brief amici curiae filed with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the District of Columbia’s argument that the D.C. handgun ban should be upheld. A great deal is at stake in this case. As organizations committed to the well-being of all children, we see handguns as an ominous threat to the health and safety of our young people. In the brief, we state and believe that “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.” Our brief further asserts that, while “statistics reflect the devastating impact of handguns on people of all ages, handguns pose a unique danger to children and adolescents. Handguns are light, portable and easy to handle—they are also accessible, romanticized in media available to adolescents, and fascinating to children.”

Each year, thousands of children and teens are victims of gun violence. The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that 3,006 children and teens died from firearms in 2005. Our research shows that every day in America we lose eight children and teens to gun violence. Since 1979, gun violence has snuffed out 104,419 young lives. The U.S. stands last among industrial nations in protecting its children against gun violence. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average cost per gunshot victim, excluding rehabilitative and long-term care was $45,000. But gunshot injuries can add up to $2.3 million in lifetime medical costs—about half of which is borne by taxpayers.

Gun control measures in other countries do work. Australia integrated gun control laws and government-sponsored gun buyback programs that resulted in cutting firearm homicides by more than half. Japan has one of the most restrictive gun control laws among democratic nations, outlawing firearms altogether with very few exceptions. In 2005, Japan had a total of 19 firearm homicides.

To understand the need for gun restrictions like those in place in the District of Columbia, one doesn’t have to go back to last April 16 when Cho Seung Hui gunned down 32 students and professors at Virginia Tech University. Just this Valentine’s Day, Stephen Kazmierczak entered a classroom in Northern Illinois University and shot five people to death and wounded many others before killing himself.

The residents of the District of Columbia are not alone in their desire to remove handguns from their community. In 2006, more than 100 U.S. mayors called for national leadership to wage war on the gun violence that ends so many lives in America.

Upholding the D.C. handgun ban is vital to our commitment to protecting the health and safety of America’s children. Therefore, we urge the Supreme Court to do what is right and let the D.C. handgun law remain in place.