By Marian Wright Edelman
On Saturday, January 26, I was part of the March on Washington for Gun Control. We called on members of Congress and state legislators to pass common sense gun safety laws to stop the epidemic of preventable child and adult gun deaths. Others were marching in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, San Antonio, Jersey City, and in communities across the country.
Grassroots groups came together in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, pastors, gun violence survivors, law enforcement officers, elected officials, child advocates, and everyone who believes that our children’s right to live, learn and grow up safely must be protected before guns, must not stop marching, calling, writing, and visiting and holding our political leaders accountable. We must vote them out if they do not act to end the preventable and immoral loss of child and human lives and honor what most Americans want and our children need.
A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans support universal background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less, and other proposals in President Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence. It will be a formidable fight to achieve these essential steps but we can and will succeed if all of us raise an irresistible and unrelenting voice in every state in the weeks and months to come, and for as long as it takes.
Don’t let anyone tell you current gun safety regulations are working just fine. They aren’t. The massacre at Sandy Hook woke up many Americans to the epidemic of gun violence which has snuffed out the lives of 148,000 children since 1968 – this is the equivalent of 7,400 classrooms of 20 children and teens. Every 30 minutes a child or teen is shot in the United States. Every 3 hours and 15 minutes a child dies from gun violence. It’s time to say “no more.”
Epidemic gun violence against children—and its toll on all who live in the United States—is a uniquely American phenomenon. In 2010, the U.S. gun death rate— homicides, suicides, and accidents—for children and teens was nearly 65 times higher than the rates in the United Kingdom and Germany and 108 times higher than in Spain. The U.S. gun homicide rate for children and teens was 106 times higher than the rate in Germany and 213 times higher than the rates in Spain and the United Kingdom.
The reason gun deaths are a huge epidemic in the United States is simple: it’s the guns and the permissive gun laws that protect them. In a 2007 study of 178 countries by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the U.S. ranked number one in the number of guns per person (88.8 per 100), far ahead of all the other countries in the study. Yemen was a distant runner-up with 55 guns per 100 people, 40 percent less than the U.S. rate.
Although the U.S. accounts for less than five percent of the global population, Americans own an estimated 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Between 270-300 million guns are in civilian hands in the U.S. – nearly one gun for every man, woman, and child. Our nation is saturated with guns and the National Rifle Association wants more and more.
We can free our nation of this scourge of gun violence. No external enemy ever took the lives of so many children and adults. We can and must change this. I am confident that most Americans value children’s safety and right to live more than they value the right of anyone to have assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. If America can’t stand up for its children, it doesn’t stand for anything.
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 www.childrensdefense.org.