As President Obama closed his State of the Union speech on February 12, after all of his other policy proposals for the nation’s future, he said this: “Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource—our children.”
As he urged the members of Congress in the audience to bring upcoming proposals for common sense gun reform to a vote, he continued: “In the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun. One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house. Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.”
Like the twenty beautiful young faces of Newtown five- and six-year-olds massacred by guns two months ago, Hadiya’s story and beautiful smile have become sadly familiar to many Americans over the last two weeks. As a sixth grader Hadiya had appeared in an anti-gang video to encourage other young people to avoid gang violence, saying, “It’s your job as students to say ‘no’ to gangs and ‘yes’ to a great future.” She could have meant a future like her own: as a high school sophomore, she was an honors student at a college preparatory school—doing everything right, with the world ahead of her. But all that changed because of a gun.
Gun violence has left our nation littered with broken hearts, decade after decade. Since 1968, more than 1.3 million Americans have been killed by guns including children and teens that would fill 7,815 classrooms of 20 children each. On Valentine’s Day, two months to the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Hadiya’s mother Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton joined the Children’s Defense Fund and One Million Moms for Gun Control to deliver a powerful message to all members of Congress. One Million Moms for Gun Control is a non-partisan grassroots movement of American mothers created after the Sandy Hook tragedy to demand action on common-sense gun legislation. In just two months it has gained tens of thousands of members in nearly 80 chapters across the United States. In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, mothers around the country and their children made more than a thousand homemade valentines for their members of Congress with messages like this: “Have a heart. Moms demand action on common sense gun safety laws. I’m a Mom, and I vote.” On Thursday the valentines were hand-delivered to each member of Congress along with a broken-hearted teddy bear with the message “Protect Children, Not Guns.”
Hadiya’s mother spoke at the event alongside Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), a Vietnam veteran, gun owner, and the chair of the House of Representatives Gun Violence Prevention Task Force; Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) from Newtown and a vice chair of the task force; Shannon Watts, the founder of One Million Moms for Gun Control; and Patti Hassler, CDF’s Vice President of Communications, whose sister Pamela Jean Hassler Groff was a victim of domestic gun violence in her Pennsylvania home, killed by her estranged husband in front of Patti’s beautiful 11-year-old niece and nine-year-old nephew. They were a reminder of how many millions of American parents, children, sisters, and brothers have been left broken-hearted by gun violence. Whether the violence happens in urban Chicago, suburban Connecticut, or rural Pennsylvania; whether guns kill by homicide, domestic violence, accident, or suicide, the resulting trauma for all of the loved ones left behind is always the same. As Patti said, “We all live with how that gun changed our lives forever…Some wounds never heal.”
This Valentine’s Day, a movement of mothers and others chose to tell their members of Congress that these families are not alone—we are all left broken-hearted by their losses, and millions of Americans are ready to stand with them and demand change. Shannon Watts said, “A child’s heart is her mother’s pulse . . . Today, I am here for every beat lost. And I am here to tell every mother who has felt her core broken because of senseless gun violence—I am here to tell you that there is an army of mothers behind you.”
We all need to join the army fighting to say no more gun violence in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Our nation’s children and families have suffered enough broken hearts. We are determined that children get a vote on common-sense gun safety measures to protect them from guns. Take action with us. Watch and share our America’s Broken Hearts video widely on social media. Call your members of Congress at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to protect children, not guns and end the epidemic of gun violence and broken hearts all across America which threatens our children’s lives and nation’s soul.
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 staging.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.