By MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
Children’s Defense Fund
On April 8, President Biden announced a series of executive actions to curb America’s gun violence epidemic that kills a child or teen every 2 hours and 36 minutes in our nation. These are critical lifesaving reforms and more must follow. Vice President Harris correctly said during the administration’s announcement, “Time and again, as progress has stalled, we have all asked, ‘What are we waiting for?’ Because we aren’t waiting for a tragedy; I know that. We’ve had more tragedy than we can bear.” As our nation continues to allow more and more guns than people – over 393 million in civilian hands and only 5.5 million in law enforcement and military hands – the tragic loss of life and heartbreak never ends. It must!
When news broke March 22 of a mass shooting in a Boulder, Colorado grocery store, we were still reeling from March 16 domestic terrorism gun violence attacks in Georgia. That day a hate-filled mass killer walked into a sporting goods store in the morning, bought a gun, and immediately used it to target and murder Asian women at the spas where they worked. The shooter killed eight people, including six Asian women, leaving behind heartbroken children, grandchildren, families and friends.
The Georgia murders were a clarion call to take action against hate, misogyny, violence and easy access to guns in our nation. Last March, as COVID-19’s impact was beginning to be widely felt, CDF issued early calls to state and local governments to counteract racism, xenophobia, fear of, and violence towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities by denouncing all forms of bullying and discrimination. Instead, then-President Trump repeatedly did the exact opposite, deliberately referring to the COVID-19 virus and its origins in racist and unscientific terms. He set an example as bully-in-chief followed by millions around the country. The group Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of violence and harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S., has reported nearly 3,800 hate incidents since the pandemic began.
Cherokee County, Georgia Sheriff’s Office Captain Jay Baker used his social media to promote racist t-shirts calling COVID-19 an “imported virus from Chy-na,” and in his official role after the shootings described the gunman as a person who had “a really bad day.” Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen quickly and correctly responded: “It wasn’t a bad day. It was a brutal and violent crime in which racism, misogyny, gender-based violence and lax gun laws intersect.” It must stop!
Guns lethalize hatred, anger, domestic disputes, mental illness and despair. Easy access to guns makes expressions of hate and violence devastating. Six days after Georgia’s murders, a Boulder shooter walked into a grocery store with a semi-automatic rifle and within minutes killed ten people, including a Boulder police officer who left behind seven children. Both the Georgia and Colorado suspects were 21-year-old men who became mass killers thanks to readily accessible and often unregulated guns.
After the 1999 Littleton, Colorado Columbine High School massacre, CDF published a series of Protect Children Not Guns campaign ads with brilliant pro bono help from Minneapolis ad agency Fallon McElligott Rice (now Fallon Worldwide), featuring searing images like the student falling from a window into the waiting arms of police officers in riot gear with the caption “Remember when the only thing kids were afraid of at school was a pop quiz?” Every poster said: It is time we protect children instead of guns. But instead, children and all of us have learned over and over again there are no guaranteed safe spaces while hate, bigotry and terrorism continue to collide with unfettered access to weapons of war. Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a survivor of a 2011 mass shooting outside a Tucson grocery store, said after the Boulder grocery store shooting: “This is not normal, and it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s beyond time for our leaders to take action.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation requiring background checks for all gun buyers and lengthening the time to complete them from three days to 20, closing the “Charleston loophole” that allowed a white supremacist to purchase a gun and kill nine Black Bible study worshipers at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. A completed background check would have shown his ineligibility to own a gun. The Senate must act quickly to do the same. It’s long past time to curb the relentless power of gun lobbyists and manufacturers and to disarm hate.
Following the Georgia attacks, CDF signed a letter by Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Atlanta and Georgia NAACP that says: “We are heartbroken by these murders, which come at a time when Asian American communities are already grappling with the traumatic violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by the United States’ long history of white supremacy, systemic racism, and gender-based violence … In this time of crisis, let’s come together and build just communities, where we are all safe, where all workers are treated with dignity and respect, and where all our loved ones thrive.” Those are the communities all of our children and grandchildren deserve. When are we going to get there?
We must get there now! We must teach all of our children to reject bigoted and hateful violence and rhetoric. We must continue fighting against the violence of xenophobia and misogyny and confront and teach the full spectrum of our history so that a new generation does not carry forth the poison of racial supremacy and white privilege. And we must stop unfettered access to guns that makes hate and violence uniquely lethal in our nation. Please ask your members of Congress to act now.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is “Leave No Child Behind.” For more information, visit https://www.childrensdefense.org.