Is protecting our children important to us as a nation? On June 12, the Children's Defense Fund released its annual report on gun violence against children, Protect Children Not Guns.
The report shows that the 2,827 children and teens who died from gun violence in 2003 — just one year — is higher than the number of American fighting men and women killed in hostile action in Iraq from 2003 to April 2006. The bodies of young gunshot victims are streaming into urban hospitals on the frontlines of an undeclared war on America's children.
The children who die every year from gunshot wounds come from all racial groups. Some of them are too young to start kindergarten: In 2003, 56 preschoolers were killed by firearms while 52 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.
When it's more dangerous to be a preschooler than a police officer, we know something is seriously wrong in our society. The deaths of thousands of children each year are morally obscene for the world's most powerful nation, which has more resources to address our social ills than any other nation.
The report is being released as a number of U.S. mayors across the country are demanding action from the White House and Congress to stop gun violence. In April, 15 mayors gathered for a summit on gun violence led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. I strongly applaud Mayor Bloomberg's statement that "It is time for national leadership in the war on gun violence." But sadly, for tens of thousands of children and teens, long overdue leadership in the war on gun violence will come too late.
According to the report, more 10- to 19-year-olds die from gunshot wounds than from any other cause except motor vehicle accidents. Almost 90 percent of the children and teens killed by firearms in 2003 were boys; boys ages 15 to 19 are nearly nine times as likely as girls of the same age to be killed by a firearm.
There were more than nine times as many suicides by guns among White children and teens as among Black children and teens. But despite this, gun violence still disproportionately affects Black children. The firearm death rate for Black males ages 15 to 19 is more than four times that of White males the same age. More Black children and teens have been killed by firearms over the past six years than all the Black people we lost in the history of lynchings.
Where is our voice? Why don't we care and protest when our children are being killed and killing others? It's time for us Black adults to get our act together.
The United States has the immoral distinction of having the highest rate of child firearm deaths. The rate of firearm deaths among children under age 15 is far higher here than in 25 other industrialized countries — combined.
What can we do to change this? The Children's Defense Fund is calling for the support of common sense gun safety measures — legislation that closes the gun show loophole requiring criminal background checks on those purchasing guns from unlicensed dealers — and renewal of the ban on assault weapons. Parents should remove guns from their homes, organize nonviolent conflict resolution support groups in their communities and monitor what their children watch and listen to in our violence-hyped culture.
Community leaders should turn schools and places of worship into venues of quality summer and after-school programs for children as positive alternatives to the streets and with positive role models.
It's imperative that we work together to make our homes, our streets, and our communities safe from firearms now — for the sake of our children.
Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund.