Our children have a right to grow up in a caring and decent society that protects their right to live and learn in safety. That right must take precedence over anyone’s right to own assault weapons or high capacity magazines that have nothing to do with self-defense or hunting and have no place in the hands of non-military and non-law enforcement personnel. Without these weapons of war applied to our children, how many would be alive today? How many Newtown or Aurora or Columbine victims would have survived?
There have been 166,562 children and teens who have died since 1965 from guns on American soil, while 52,280 U.S. soldiers were killed in action in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. On average during that period, 3,470 children and teens were killed by guns every year—174 classrooms of 20 children. This is intolerable in a decent and democratic society. When will the number of children killed by guns in our country be sufficient for enough of our Congressional leaders to pass common sense gun safety laws to protect them as Connecticut, New York, Colorado, and Maryland have recently done?
I hope that everyone who believes in protecting our children’s right to live and grow up will become as vocal and passionate and organized as those who seek more and more dangerous weapons of death in a nation already saturated with more than 300 million guns. We must stop this relentless war against our children and dethrone the NRA whose reign obstructs what 90 percent of Americans want.
I woke up the morning after the Senate votes thinking about Sojourner Truth, one of my role models, a brilliant and indomitable slave woman who could neither read nor write but who was passionate about ending unjust slavery and second-class treatment of women. At the end of one of her antislavery talks in Ohio, a man came up to her and said, “Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery does any good? Do you suppose people care what you say? Why, I don’t care anymore for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea.” “Perhaps not,” she answered, “but, the Lord willing, I’ll keep you scratching.”
Some of our Senators have just told us that they don’t care what 90 percent of us want and have closed their ears to the pleas of those who have lost their children and family members to gun violence. But we must be determined and persistent fleas until we move them either to change their minds or kick them out of office. I hope enough of us will bite them, bite them, and bite them until they do care about the children whose lives have been cut short and those at risk of the same fate. Enough fleas biting strategically can make the biggest dog uncomfortable. And if they flick some of us off but even more of us keep coming back and biting with our calls, emails, visits, nonviolent direct action protests, and votes (the most important nonviolent protest)—we’ll win.
(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. For more information go to http://www.childrensdefense.org.)