On March 14, Americans witnessed a remarkable scene as tens of thousands of students across our country walked out of their classrooms to honor the tragic and preventable loss of 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one month earlier and to demand that adults, especially political leaders, take common sense and life saving steps against epidemic gun violence in our nation. Students from Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas demonstrated outside the White House and marched on the U.S. Capitol to get politicians to protect them. In city after city across our country young people gathered on campuses, held lie-ins on sidewalks, and took to the streets begging adults to do something to help keep them safe and to protect children, not guns. One high school student said she and her friends can no longer stand feeling “hunted” just going to school. Another said she wanted to tell Congress, “We need fewer prayers and more action.” What kind of values drive political leaders to think the NRA and guns are of higher value and importance than precious children?
I have written in this space far too often about children whose lives and futures have been snuffed out by guns — some as infants. A few weeks after the December 2012 massacre of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I wrote what shamefully still remains true today: “Gun violence saturates our children’s lives and relentlessly threatens them every day. It has romped through their playgrounds; invaded their birthday parties; terrorized their Head Start classrooms, child care centers and schools; frolicked down the streets they walk to and from school; danced through their school buses; waited at the red light and bus stop; lurked behind trees; run them down on the corner; shot them through their bedroom windows, on their front porches, and in their neighborhoods. Gun violence has taught, entertained, and tantalized them incessantly 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 them forget about tomorrow. …
“It has nagged and picked at their child and 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 post-traumatic stress disorders — often chronic. It has caused them recurring nightmares and made them afraid to go outdoors or to the movies. It has made them want to or feel they have to get a gun or join a gang to protect themselves because adults can’t or won’t protect them. It has made them plan their own funerals because they don’t think they’ll live to adulthood. … It terrifies them and makes them cry inside and wonder if and when enough adults are ever going to stand up and make it stop and make children safe.”
In a nation obsessed with guns and unwilling to give up easy access to weapons of war, this generation has quickly learned a sad truth many adults already knew: There is no safe space in America. Not an outdoor concert. Not a dance club. Not a church or temple. Not an office party. Not a movie theater. Not a military base. Not a college campus. Not a first grade classroom, and not what should have been an ordinary day at an ordinary American high school. Bullets have no boundaries and gun violence against children and teens cuts across race, ethnicity, age and location. But unlike many adults who seem to have become numb to the violence, changed the channel, and shaken their heads thinking nothing was ever going to change, courageous and visionary young people are standing up to say: Enough. No more. No more in our schools or our communities. Do something — now. Children are leading irresponsible uncaring adults!
Today’s children still don’t know whether adults are ever going to stand up and make them safe, so now some are starting to take matters into their own hands. Every child has a right to live and to dream and to strive for a future that is not destroyed in a second because we cowered before a seemingly incorrigible special-interest lobby and refused to protect them. We will not pass the test of the God of the prophets or New Testament or all great faiths if we do not protect all of our sacred children against repeated and preventable gun deaths and injuries. Now is the time to do whatever is necessary to protect our children’s right to live and grow up to adulthood. Our children are telling us they are tired of waiting and are showing us the way. Let’s follow and support them!
In just over a week, thousands more children and teens will come to our nation’s capital for the March For Our Lives — a fight for their lives. We must stand with them and demand Congressional action to break up the uniquely evil and irresponsible American love affair with guns and stop the scourge of gun violence that is everywhere today and end the epidemic numbers of homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths fueled by too-easy access to firearms. In 2016, 3,128 children and teens died from guns in the United States, one every two hours and 48 minutes — the greatest number of child and teen gun deaths since 2006. As many children and teens died from guns every two days in 2016 as died in the Parkland massacre. More preschool children died from gun violence than law enforcement officers in the line of duty. What is the matter with us that we are so spiritually dead about protecting lives only God can give?
To protect children, not guns, we must insist on common-sense approaches to gun violence prevention: banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines; closing loopholes in the current background check system and holding accountable those responsible for reporting records to the background check system; raising the age for the purchase of long guns; raising red flags when law enforcement and family members’ concerns warrant denial of gun purchases; banning devices like bump stocks that allow shooters to increase the rate of fire in their semi-automatic weapons; protecting victims of domestic violence by extending gun restrictions on perpetrators; and ending the ban on federally-supported research on gun violence. Call for action now to Protect Children, Not Guns and vote for those who support safety for all our children now.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.