“I have supported legislation in the past which would place reasonable and careful restrictions on the use of firearms, and I am co-sponsoring S.1 … I believe this bill would impose necessary controls without unduly curtailing the use of firearms for legitimate sport shooting or hunting, and without curtailing the lawful activity of sport gun clubs. Basically this legislation would only subject deadly weapons to the same control we have always imposed on automobiles, liquor or prescription drugs. The use and sale of these items are carefully regulated by Federal, State, and local government. The same should be true of firearms.” – Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, May 2, 1967
(George Curry Media) – With the echo of gunshots from the San Bernardino massacre ricocheting across the country, and another American community reeling with new broken hearts, it sounds like a reasonable plea for common sense legislation a responsible lawmaker might make today.
Since Robert Kennedy’s and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 deaths, more than 164,000 children have died from gun violence in America – three times more than all the American soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam War and every external conflict since.
In the decades since the deaths of Kennedy and King very little has changed. Mass shootings have become the new normal. Since the beginning of this year we’ve had on average more than one a day. After a new mass shooting makes headlines our national discussion of gun violence feels and sounds like a broken record stuck on one horrifying song that never ends.
The president expresses his outrage that these tragedies continue to happen and calls on the public to push Congress and state legislatures to do the right thing. Members of Congress release proposals without a clear timetable for a vote or a path to passage. Public support for gun safety measures swells. The gun lobby pushes back, accusing those who seek reform of politicizing tragedy while continuing their relentless work to loosen restrictions on the deadly weapons that continue the carnage. Broken families and communities struggle to pick up the pieces after the media leaves town.
These horrible mass shootings that destroy and shake up so many lives with ever-increasing frequency tell only part of the tragic cost of gun violence that pervades our cities and towns every single day across our nation.
Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control earlier this year show there was a death by a gun every 16 minutes and a child or teen was killed or injured by a gun every 30 minutes in 2013. More than 2,400 children and teens died from guns, enough to fill 122 classrooms of 20 children. Why in God’s name are we so reticent to stand up to the pro-gun lobby when American children are 18 times more likely to die by a gun than children in 25 other high -income nations? Are we so spiritually dead that the killing of children has become routine and unimportant? Where is the faith community?
Recent gun violence prevention research should help point the way forward. A recent study found that a Connecticut law that expanded background checks to all handgun purchases helped achieve a 40 percent reduction in gun homicides during the first 10 years following the law’s enactment. Another study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine found states with background checks on private as well as online gun sales had 16 percent lower gun fatality rates.
Some say that background checks alone will not prevent every gun tragedy and they won’t, but they are a critically important step forward. We need more research on laws, other policies and technologies that might save more lives. Proposals to require background checks for ammunition sales, impose a tax on ammunition, require liability insurance for guns, and smart gun technologies all merit immediate attention.
Sadly, the National Rifle Association, other members of the gun lobby, and their cowardly allies in Congress and in many state legislatures have barred the CDC from conducting research and sharing the truth about the impact of gun violence on our nation’s public health since the mid-1990’s and imposed similar restrictions on the National Institutes of Health in 2011 due to fears that research might show concrete ways to reduce its deadly impacts.
Just this week physicians’ organizations including Doctors for America, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Student Association and others delivered a petition to Congress from more than 2,000 doctors in all 50 states and the District of Columbia urging Congress to remove these barriers and provide funding for such research.
Why is the NRA afraid of the truth? Is it because they fear the research may show concrete ways to reduce the impact of guns that sapped 33,169 lives in America in 2013 and injured 83,075, and yet remain the only unregulated consumer product? It makes no sense to regulate toy guns that kill not a single person and let real guns that should only be in the hands of the military kill tens of thousands annually. We should protect human beings rather than guns.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is “leave no child behind.” For more information go to http://www.childrensdefense.org.