The Massive Human and Moral Cost of Gun Violence

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By Marian Wright Edelman | February 1, 2013

Child Watch – The heartrendingmassacre of 20 6 and 7-year-old children and six educators in Newtown, Conn.has galvanized public attention once again after a mass shooting. But thekilling of children by gun violence is not new. It has been a relentlesslyunreported and under-reported plague that has snuffed out the lives of 119,079children and teenagers since 1979. That’s an average of 3,721 child and teendeaths every year for 32 years. That’s 4,763 classrooms of 25 children each.The number of children and teens killed by guns since 1979 is two and a halftimes greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action inthe Vietnam or Korean Wars, and over 22 times greater thanAmerican military personnel killed in the wars in Afghanistan and inIraq .{{more}} The United States of America has spent atrillion and a half dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars so far, purportedlyto protect our children and citizens from enemies without, while ignoring thereality that the greatest threats to child safety and well-being come fromenemies within. Gun violence saturates our children’slives and relentlessly threatens them every day. It has romped through theirplaygrounds; invaded their birthday parties; terrorized their Head Startclassrooms, child care centers, and schools; frolicked down the streets theywalk to and from school; danced through their school buses; waited at the redlight and bus stop; lurked behind trees; run them down on the corner; shot themthrough their bedroom windows, on their front porches, and in theirneighborhoods. Gun violence has taught, entertained, and tantalized themincessantly across television, movie, and video game screens and the Internet.It has snatched away their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters,friends, and teachers; sapped their energy and will to learn; and made themforget about tomorrow. It has nagged and picked at their childand youthful minds and spirits and darkened their dreams, day in and day out,snuffing out the promise and joy of childhood and inflicting them with posttraumatic stress disorders – often chronic. It has caused them recurringnightmares and made them afraid to go outdoors or to the movies. It has madethem want to or feel they have to get a gun or join a gang to protectthemselves because adults can’t or won’t protect them. It has made them plantheir own funerals because they don’t think they’ll live to adulthood. It haskilled them with guns every three hours and fifteen minutes and injured themevery 34 minutes. It terrifies them and makes them cry inside and wonder if andwhen enough adults are ever going to stand up and make it stop and makechildren safe. President Obama, in his moving remarks atthe Sandy Hook interfaith prayer vigil at Newtown High School December 16,2012, got it right when he said: “Caring for our children. It’s our first job.If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as asociety, we will be judged.” And we will not pass the test of the God of theprophets or New Testament or all great faiths if we do not protect all of oursacred children against repeated and preventable gun deaths and injuries. Everychild has a right to live and to dream and to strive for a future that is notdestroyed in a second because we cowered before a special interest lobby andrefused to protect them. What can we do? Learn the truth about anddebunk the myths that guns make us safe. Did you know that one third of allhouseholds with children younger than 18 have a gun and 40 percent ofgun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked? Contrary to whatmany people believe, having a gun in your home doesn’t make you safer butinstead endangers you and your loved ones. A gun in the home makes thelikelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher,and accidental death four times higher. For every time a gun in the home injuresor kills in self-defense, there are 11 completed and attempted gun suicides,seven criminal assaults and homicides with a gun, and four unintentionalshooting deaths or injuries. Read the Children’s Defense Fund ‘snew Protect Children Not Guns: The Truth About Guns, which debunks myths thatguns make you safe. Convene congregational and parent and community studygroups and let the enormity of lost child and human life sweep over you andpierce your hearts and make you determined to wake up, stand up and dosomething! Check CDF’s website regularly for steps you can take and that othersare taking. Small acts by enough of us can set off big ripples across ournation and shake up our political leaders. The important thing is to care and to actand to keep acting for as long as it takes until the NRA’s lock on gun policyis broken. Stop shopping at stores that sell firearms over the counter – makingtheir purchase and use as routine and normal as a flashlight or toaster.Assault weapons should not be normalized and treated as a household product orglorified as American as apple pie. Turn off the violent TV shows. Stop buyingthe violent toys and video games and call for nonviolent conflict resolutionand restorative justice training of our educators, faith leaders, children, andall of us. Let’s make violence unacceptable rather than acceptable in ournation which leads the world’s industrialized nations in military expenditures,in number of guns sold and in circulation , and inchild, youth, and adult civilian gun deaths. At the height of the Vietnam War,anti-war demonstrators filled the Mall and confronted the President, Congress,and Pentagon calling for an end to that war. What is it going to take for theAmerican people–for you and for me–to push the President and members ofCongress and Governors and state legislators to stand up to the NRA, gunmanufacturers, and sellers? What is it going to take for them to placeprotection of children and youths and adults ahead of the protection of gunsand profits and their election to office.? How much is a child’s life worth intoday’s political economy in America? In 2013, as we prepare to celebrateMartin Luther King’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the March onWashington and the dream of our gun-slain prophet of nonviolence, let us trulyhear and follow rather than just celebrate him. Now is the time to freeourselves from the plague of gun violence which has taken over 1.3 millionAmerican lives since Dr. King and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations in 1968. Thisis twice the loss of life than all American battle casualties in all the majorwars we have fought since our nation began: the Revolutionary War ; theWar of 1812 ; the Mexican War ; the Civil War ; theSpanish American War ; World War I ; World War II ; theKorean War ; the Vietnam War ; the Persian Gulf War ; theIraq War , and the war in Afghanistan . Isn’t it way past timefor some hard soul searching about what we believe as Americans? Do we believein the sanctity of life in America or don’t we? We decide.