As the nation marks the one-year anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., shootings, it is no closer to federal gun control legislation. If this were another country, the number of children killed by gun violence would violate international law.
Last year, President Barack Obama acknowledged that urban gun violence is a concern equal to that of mass killings. There have been 64 mass killings between 1982 and 2013. Over 116,000 children have been killed by gun violence.
In 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the first legally binding international treaty affirming that every child, everywhere, has a right to survive, grow and be protected from all forms of violence. The United States signed this treaty. However, Somalia, South Sudan and the United States are the only countries that have failed to ratify it. Without ratification, there is no enforcement.
The United Nations Children’s Fun (UNICEF) is urging that a much stronger light be shone on the millions of children in every country who are victims of violence. American children are not immune to the same types of violence that take place in other countries, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and harsh disciplinary practices. However, high levels of gun violence involving children seem a uniquely American epidemic.
Although most young gun victims live in urban areas, the risk of death or injury by a firearm is not just an urban problem. In the last eight years, random murders and other gun violence have taken the lives of 247,131 men, women and children, according to the Firearm Injury Center at University of Pennsylvania.
America’s gun violence is taking young lives and damaging survivors.
According to UNICEF, “Violence inflicts both physical harm and psychological damage on children.” Children in small towns and in big cities all across America become victims “much of the time [not by] their only fault, [but by] being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to the Firearm Injury Center.
“Violence against children … undermines the fabric of society,” said Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF.
Urban gun violence routinely involves teenagers or young adults, while mass gun murders happen more often in suburban communities. If there is an average place for incidents of mass killings, it would be in the suburbs or the workplaces of small-town adults.
While the nation commemorates children lost in the mass shooting in Newtown, change must occur for inner-city children in Brooklyn, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Dallas and Newark, N.J.—wherever young lives are being taken by stray bullets, gang activity and enraged adults.
Families who lost children in the Newtown massacre share a common grief with Black and Latino families in Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia and Kansas City. The senseless loss of children to gun violence leaves all families devastated, wherever they reside.
Pro-gun activists claim any gun control is an infringement of their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld gun rights in the 2010 case of McDonald v. Chicago, in which Otis McDonald wanted a gun to protect against burglars breaking into his South Side, Chicago, home. In 2008, the Supreme Court had already upheld the gun rights of Richard Heller, a gun owner in Washington, in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller.
But as gun ownership increases, so does concern over child safety. According to FBI data, in 2011, 1,668 African-Americans under the age of 22 were killed by guns. That is three times the number of Americans killed that year fighting a war in Afghanistan. On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex,” Obama said last year. Lanza killed 5- and 6-year-old children, shooting one 5-year-old child over 10 times. He used a 10-milimeter Glock handgun, a 9-milimeter Sig Sauer and a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, which is a civilian version of a military M-16 rifle.
All of his weapons were legally registered to Nancy Lanza, his mother, whom he killed first. The causes of such violence may be complex. However, the resulting loss of so many young lives is an international disgrace.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an associate professor of constitutional law at John Jay College in New York City, is a legal correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court, the United Nations and major legal issues. She is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present.” Follow her on Twitter @GbrowneMarshall.