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October 12, 2009

"We cannot allow gun violence to take any more children's lives..."

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), a member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, has worked tirelessly during their 35 years of existence to better the lives of children. The driving force behind these efforts has been CDF President Marian Wright Edelman. Edelman was a longtime activist in the civil rights movement and later moved to the District of Columbia to found CDF.

Recently, CDF released its 2009 “Protect Children, Not Guns” report, which evaluates the impact of gun violence on America’s youth. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3,184 children died from gunfire in the United States in 2006, a 6% increase from 2005. More preschoolers (63) were killed by firearms that year than law enforcement officers (48) in the line of duty. Since 1979, gun violence has ended the lives of 107,603 children and teens in the U.S. The data also reveals that black males ages 15 to 19 are almost five times as likely as their white peers and more than twice as likely as their Latino peers to be killed by firearms. Edelman firmly believes that “the United States does not provide a level playing field for all children, and our nation does not value and protect all children’s lives equally.”

Why does CDF continue to prioritize the issue of gun violence? Edelman says that “it is now more important than ever that we work to protect children from firearms in their homes, schools and communities.” In her mind, “we do not have a ‘child and youth problem,’” but a “profound adult problem.”

“It is up to every one of us,” Edelman states, “to let our elected officials know that we care deeply about controlling gun violence.” She feels that “stronger federal legislation could help protect more children” and outlines some key measures she would like legislators to act on.

First, she believes the “Gun Show Loophole” should be closed. While the Brady Law requires that federally licensed firearms dealers conduct background checks on every sale, the law allows private individuals to sell firearms without a license and avoid the required background checks, and these sellers frequent gun shows. One study estimated that 40% of all firearms in the U.S. are purchased without a background check. Edelman suggests that advocates push for passage of bipartisan bills to require background checks on all sales at gun shows, S.843 and H.R. 2324.

Edelman also believes that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) should be strengthened. “The system could be strengthened by requiring states to provide more information to the FBI’s national database on prohibited persons, extending background checks to cover all purchases of firearms, and closing the [Terrorist Watch List] Loophole,” she says.

Finally, Edelman emphasizes the need to reinstitute the Assault Weapons Ban. While the ban, signed into law in 1994, banned 19 types of semiautomatic military-style firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines, it expired in 2004.

Legislation is not enough by itself, however. Edelman believes “America has a deadly, historic romance with guns and violence. Our culture frequently glamorizes guns and violence in movies, television, music, and on the internet.” This culture of violence is “desensitizing” us “to the value of life,” according to Edelman, and “individuals and communities must act to end [it].”

Edelman envisions hard work on the road to a safer, more peaceful society: “Like the black students and other civil rights activists during the 1960s, we cannot wait placidly for change. They took control of their own destinies and fought inequality and discrimination—and we must do the same. We cannot allow gun violence to take any more children’s lives because of our complacency. We must take action now to let Congress know it must enact sensible gun legislation to stop the senseless killing of children and teens.”

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