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.