By Marian Wright Edelman
More than a week later, we remain shaken by the horror brought to Sandy Hill Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The 20 children and 6 educators slain there are the latest victims of America’s relentless gun violence plague. Each week, 350 children and teens are killed or injured by guns-enough to fill 14 more classrooms of 25 each. Today, one child or teen will experience gun violence every 30 minutes and die from it every 3 hours. What have we become as a people when even in the face of such sin and suffering, we continue to protect guns before children? Will the slaughter of six- and seven-year-old children finally bring us to our senses?
The President has convened a task force on gun violence. But whether or not real and lasting action is taken depends on citizens – on people of faith, on mothers, fathers, neighbors – holding political leaders to the fire. God has no other voices and votes and feet demanding justice and safety for children except ours. Our task is clear-we must be the force to demand that real and comprehensive action be taken to end gun madness that is terrorizing our children and all of us.
Change will be very hard but is necessary and possible. Funded by a $12 billion gun industry, the gun lobby resists even the smallest and easiest measures advanced to protect children’s lives. A debate in Connecticut last year that could have saved lives at Sandy Hill Elementary if decided differently shows what we must and will overcome. In January of 2011, a lone gunman in Tucson, Arizona-armed with a semiautomatic pistol loaded with a magazine carrying 33 bullets-shot and killed six people including nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green and injured eleven others including U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. Two months later the Connecticut state legislature introduced a bill to ban such high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The Connecticut bill was tough; it would have made it illegal to have magazines with more than 10 bullets. People who already owned high-volume clips would have been required to turn them over to law enforcement or send them out of state. Possession alone of 30 round magazines, like those used by Adam Lanza last Friday, would have been a felony.
Tragically, what happened next to the Connecticut bill is what has happened all too often to common-sense gun safety laws and regulations in America. The National Rifle Association stepped in: Connecticut legislators were inundated with 30,000 NRA-orchestrated emails and letters, 300 pro-gun activists attended a committee hearing to oppose it, and the bill died quickly.
May this lesson guide us all for the fight ahead. But fight we must however hard it is and as long as it takes and be unrelenting and unyielding. With urgency and persistence, we must come together to educate and mobilize our communities to demand our lawmakers protect children, not guns. This essential step is crucial even as we also address other aspects of this epidemic, including the need for effective mental health services in America and a popular culture which glorifies and is soaked in gun violence.
Will you join with us in taking a first step by signing an open letter to the President and Congress and demand that they protect children, not guns – now! Not another child should die or be injured because you and I did not act.